MAY 2000

 

JANUARY 2000 FULL ISSUE

GREETINGS FROM CYANIDE LAKE, IDAHO

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

STANLEY, Idaho - Federal officials say they will issue an emergency order forcing a gold mining company to remove a lake of cyanide that is contaminating salmon habitat in Idaho,  Cascadia Times has learned. The lake is perched on a bench almost directly above the Yankee Fork of Idaho's famous Salmon River, at the edge of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The Salmon River and its tribuTaries are key to the Northwest's billion-dollar salmon restoration effort.  

Once home to some of the most abundant salmon runs of any tributary in the ~ Columbia Basin, its fish have been deCimated since the construction of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake. Proposals to remove four dams on the Lower Snake would restore more fish by far to the Salmon than any other river. But federal officials worry that the cyanide spilling into the Salmon's headwaters is making survival all the more difficult for endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

The government intends to move  quickly on removing the 65-acre Lake, which contains 500 million gallons of cyanide-laced wastewater, plus 4.3 million tons of tailings - all from the defunct Grouse Creek open-pit gold  mine, owned and operated by Hecla Mining Co., of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Cyanide has been detected in ground or surface water near the mine almost continuously since it opened in 1994. But the government's biggest fear now is that eventually the lake could overflow in a major storm, sending torrents of poison down a mountainside into the Yankee Fork, potentially killing all living things for many miles. The dam holding back the lake could also become unstable because of earthquakes, bad weather or leaks. "We have a problem on our hands," said Helen Hillman of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, in response to a Cascadia Times inquiry.

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Paul Koberstein