Idaho officials are considering altering rules for suction dredge mining on the South Fork of the Clearwater River just before the monthlong season is set to begin.
At the Tenmile Mining District's request, regulators are looking at several conditions included in its permits to see if they can be clarified or simplified, the Lewiston Tribune reported last week .
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"The changes we are considering now I think are minor, commonsense changes that aren't going to affect changes to the water and wildlife in the river," Department of Water Resources Deputy Director Mathew Weaver said.
Suction dredge mining uses large, gas-powered vacuums to suck up gravel on the bottom of rivers and streams in search of gold flakes and other valuable minerals. Environmentalists worry about the effect on habitat for fish and their food sources and damage to air and water quality.
Oregon and Washington state also allow this type of mining, though conservationists have pushed for changes aimed at preserving waterways. Oregon lawmakers passed a measure this year establishing new restrictions and fees for the practice in 2018.
In Idaho, the water resources agency says it will look at other changes requested by miners but not until after the season closes Aug. 15 because they require more significant scientific and technical review.
Any changes to this year's rules will be made by July 10, five days before dredge mining opens on the South Fork.
The agency has released a list of miners' requests and an indication of which ones they are considering but not the exact wording of the proposed changes or what the revisions might look like.
Because of that and the short time allowed for public input, the Idaho Conservation League is urging the agency to delay the process.
"We have no idea what they are going to propose. We have questions if it even complies with governmental rule-making," said Jonathan Oppenheimer, a senior conservation associate for the Boise-based environmental group. "There are more questions than answers."
David P. Hembree of the Tenmile Mining District requested the changes in letters to the Idaho Water Resources Board in April and June. Hembree says members of the district believe they are not required to comply with the conditions in a special supplement permit required by federal officials.
But the district agreed to submit proposed changes it believes would make mining conditions more user-friendly. Hembree could not be reached for comment.
Changes being considered this season include altering language so that miners don't have to place absorbent pads under their dredges or use funnels during refueling. Instead, they would keep spill kits on site and use approved fuel storage containers.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com