Paying for a gold mine

  When the Dakota Mining Corp. abandoned its Stibnite gold mine in the rugged mountains of the Payette National Forest last year, it left a mess behind. Shacks were stuffed with barrels brimming with unknown chemicals; it took a bomb squad from Mountain Home Air Force Base to remove one bottle of particularly volatile acid. Almost a century of mining gold, tungsten and antimony at the site had left a 76-acre valley floor buried under 3.7 million cubic yards of spent ore and pools of cyanide-contaminated water - all at the headwaters of the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River.

Clearly, says Jim Egnew of the Payette National Forest, "The company was not a good steward. We asked them to leave. They were in no position to do anything."

Dakota Mining Corp. did forfeit $721,000 in cleanup bonds, but that won't cover the high-elevation reclamation project. Cleanup at the 240-acre Stibnite site is expected to cost an extra $200,000 and take two years. Water monitoring costing $20,000 a year may last another 10 years. Taxpayers will have to pay what the company doesn't cover. Scott Brown of the Idaho Conservation League in Boise says that could have been avoided if the state Department of Environmental Quality had asked for a cleanup bond of more than $1,800 per acre during the last mine expansion.

"We tried to raise concerns," he says, "and we were more or less blown off at the time."

*Roger Phillips
High Country News Classifieds