In Bill Davis’ recent guest opinion in the Jefferson Star regarding exploratory drilling in the Kilgore area, he alludes to misinformation about Otis Gold Corp’s proposal to conduct gold exploration in the Centennial Mountains of eastern Idaho.
Bill reminds readers the Forest Service is not approving a gold mine — simply considering exploration. Specifically, a network of new roads and 130 drill pads. Bill is correct to ask citizens to focus feedback on proposed exploration activities, not the gold mine likely to be developed as a result.
However, it’s hardly misinformation motivating the growing concern for what exploration entails and where it could lead. Exploration may seem benign, but it’s not arbitrary. Mining companies invest in exploration to find enough mineral value to warrant a mine proposal — or better yet, parlay their findings into a deal with an even larger, more well-resourced company that can take over.
The company spearheading this operation — Canadian-owned Otis, a subsidiary of Excellon Resources — has made no secret of its hopes for Kilgore. They have publicly promoted the Kilgore Project to shareholders as comparable to Kinross’ Round Mountain Mine, a massive open-pit heap leach mine in Nevada.
The comparison is understandably making Idahoans and those with an interest in the continued wellbeing of Idaho agriculture nervous. Unlike the arid Round Mountain site, the Kilgore Project is within a wet, porous landscape. A cyanide mine sitting at the headwaters of the Snake River Aquifer, squarely within prime big game habitat and adjacent to streams of prized Yellowstone cutthroat trout, is enough to make anyone’s eyebrows rise. Mining activities — from exploration to extraction — located here would place a tremendous burden of risk on the shoulders of Idaho taxpayers, farmers, hunters, anglers and downstream communities.
While the Forest Service may need to compartmentalize mining exploration, it is simply not the case that residents of Idaho need to put blinders on and pretend exploration is not intended to lead to mining. Idahoans are rightfully concerned with both the impacts of exploration and what’s at stake should it succeed.
Mining is an important economic activity to the state. But one need not be anti-mining to have serious concerns with the prospect of a cyanide heap leach mine at the headwaters of the Snake River Aquifer. As the chairman of a phosphate mining company, I know full well the economic driver a well-placed mine can be. The Kilgore Project is not that.
Idahoans have plenty to comment on regarding exploration. It is surprising to see Excellon resubmitting an application almost identical to the one recently disavowed by a federal court ruling for failing to adequately address water quality impacts. Idahoans may also be concerned with having their hunting and recreation access cut off, seeing prime wildlife habitat disrupted and seeing water quality impacted from sedimentation.
Comment on exploration, but please don’t let the Forest Service — an agency ostensibly entrusted with the protection and sustainable management of America’s forests — tell you you’re not allowed to be concerned with the prospect of what’s to come.