Letters From the West

Atlanta Gold wants more time to pay pollution fine

CEO Ernie Simmons says Atlanta Gold could mine 1 million ounces of gold, like this gold the Canadian company mined during tests last summer, at its mine 60 miles east of Boise.

CEO Ernie Simmons says Atlanta Gold holds up gold from his proposed mine.(Idaho Statesman photo)

Atlanta Gold has asked a federal judge to grant it a third extension of its deadline to pay a $2 million fine.

The mining company was supposed to pay its fine by the end of April and has asked the court to give it until July 31 to pay the fine for violating the Clean Water Act by allowing arsenic and iron to flow into a tributary of the Boise River. This is the latest chapter in the continuing saga of the effort to mine gold in the historic mining area near the Boise National Forest hamlet of Atlanta that has been going on since 1985.

You might remember my last story where Atlanta Gold CEO Ernie Simmons said U.S. District Judge Mikel Williams’ order actually was a victory.

Simmons in that story was touting how for the first time in decades, water flowing from an old mining tunnel into Montezuma Creek, a tributary of the Boise River, meets federal clean water standards. But in her court filing challenging the extension, attorney Kristen Ruether of Advocates for the West, said Atlanta Gold had violated standards weekly in February and March.

The Canadian company had installed a new filtration system that Simmons said has met federal standards for the last two weeks.

“It’s the best its been since God made that mountain,” Simmons said. Background levels are far higher than our discharge.”

Idaho Conservation League associate John Robison said Atlanta Gold has been spending money on engineering for a new road and other things instead of paying the fine.

“We are concerned that Atlanta Gold is not taking the needed steps to protect the Boise River headwaters from arsenic pollution, despite an order from the Court to clean up the pollution,” he said.

Simmons said the five-mile road proposed by the Atlanta Highway District, would provide a fire break and move traffic away from the streamside areas that pollute the rivers. Atlanta Gold had claimed that the road fits under historic right-of-way status established by the Mining Law of 1866.

The Forest Service responded in a letter that an environmental review would be necessary and challenged that a historic right-of-way exists. Simmons said the road is now up to the Atlanta Highway District.

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