Letters From the West

Atlanta Gold CEO says if U.S. doesn’t want them to mine don’t ask foreign investors for money

Colorful Atlanta Gold CEO Ernie Simmons took his moment before the Idaho Senate Resources and Environment Committee Monday to harangue the federal government and environmentalists for all of the red tape modern miners face because of past environmental messes.

Simmons, a native Canadian who is proudly a naturalized American citizen, said Canadian companies like Atlanta Gold ask investors from all over the world to invest in Idaho and other states to dig up the mineral wealth that creates jobs and taxes and provides the material needed from everything from gold chains to cell phones.

“We’re advertising we want foreign investment,” Simmons said. “But we are not here to clean up past mine sites.”

That’s exactly what he’s doing at Atlanta Gold after losing a $2 million lawsuit for Atlanta Gold’s violation of the Clean Water Act from arsenic and iron coming out f an old line tunnel. For Simmons its remarkably similar to 30 years ago when his Canadian Mining Co employer at the time Noranda Corp. was forced to pay $35 million for a water treatment system to clean up the heavy metal laden water coming out of the the then infamous Blackbird Cobalt Mine 20 miles northwest of Salmon.

He had been sent to the Blackbird in 1980 to reopen the old mine and open an American source for the strategic mineral, cobalt. But the Congo government of Mobutu Sese Seko, the main source of cobalt, flooded the market and dropped the price so low the Blackbird Mine could open.

It never has. But Simmons vowed to open Atlanta Gold, on a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Boise River next to the Elmore County forest town of Atlanta.

“We can generate 400 jobs for 400 families in Idaho,” Simmons said. “ We can add significantly to the tax base from circulating dollars within the business community.  And, we can do this for a number of generations.”

But Simmons said if the United States is going to tell the foreign investors who fund the Canadian companies like Atlanta Gold that he runs that it’s impossible to build and get into production a mine, “then stop taking our money.”

Simmons told the committee how he has mined all over the world and how other countries are much easier to get a mine into production than the U.S. He said he helped the Mongolian government set up its mining establishment.

“I’m the biggest landowner in the land of Mongolia,” Simmons said. “I own about a half a million acres.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway quizzed Simmons on what the Idaho Legislature could do for mining.

“It sounds like a guy could get rich just following you around,” Siddoway said.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West