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Judge says mining company violates federal water rules

An Idaho mining company has not complied with court orders and continues to violate clean water rules, according to a ruling by a federal judge.

U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush of Boise in an order Thursday determined that Atlanta Gold had not achieved substantial compliance at its Montezuma Creek site above Atlanta in Elmore County, the Idaho Statesman reported .

Montezuma Creek is a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Boise River, a source of drinking, irrigation and recreational water for Boise and other Treasure Valley communities.

Atlanta Gold’s attorney Michelle Points on Friday said the company would have no comment on the ruling.

Atlanta Gold’s treatment system remains incapable of treating higher volumes of water associated with annual snow melt or heavy rains, Bush wrote.

“Progress has been made in reducing the number of violations of the permit requirements and reducing the severity of the violations, but an improvement upon an abysmal record of non-compliance does not equal substantial compliance,” he said.

The judge also called out Atlanta Gold for failing to follow through on improvements promised to ensure compliance and protect the watershed. Some improvements discussed in filings and testimony are the same improvements discussed but not implemented for seven years, he said.

Atlanta Gold had reduced the frequency and magnitude of permit exceedances and that they justified a reduction of a civil contempt penalty, Bush said. He halved a penalty imposed in 2017 from $251,000 to $125,500.

The ruling Thursday ruling is the latest in actions from a lawsuit filed in 2011 against Atlanta Gold by two environmental organizations, Idaho Conservation League and Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

U.S. District Judge Mikel Williams in 2012 ordered Atlanta Gold to pay $2 million for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act and to fix problems or face additional financial penalties.

Atlanta Gold has not fully made things right for the Boise River and Idahoans, said Justin Hayes, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

“The river is a major source of drinking water and recreation for southern Idaho, and it’s way past time for Atlanta Gold to step up and take responsibility,” he said.

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