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Mining company wants Idaho tribe’s lawsuit put on hold

A Canadian company hoping to mine for gold in central Idaho wants a lawsuit filed by the Nez Perce Tribe requesting that the site be cleaned up to be put on hold.

British Columbia-based Midas Gold said in court documents filed Wednesday that its plan for the area about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of McCall, where it has never mined, will clean up pollution from past mining companies if it’s allowed to proceed.

The tribe filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August, saying Midas Gold is illegally allowing arsenic, cyanide and mercury to remain in the area where the tribe has had hunting and fishing rights since an 1855 treaty with the U.S.

Midas Gold in the past decade has acquired existing mining claims in the area and is seeking approval from U.S. agencies to start work at what is known as the Stibnite Mining District.

“We have always wanted to do our part to protect the environment, including cleaning up the mess previous mining operations left behind,” the company said in a statement.

“A lawsuit by the Nez Perce Tribe will not clean up the Stibnite Mining District,” the company added. “It will only slow down our ongoing efforts to get on this Site and help this area.”

Kayeloni Scott, spokeswoman for the tribe, said Friday that tribal officials hadn’t yet reviewed the document and couldn’t immediately comment.

The company has said the area in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon River contains an estimated 4 million ounces (113 million grams) of gold.

Mining there dates back more than a century and has left two open pits, including one that is now filled with water that has been blocking a salmon and steelhead spawning stream since the 1930s. The site also has extensive tailings left from mining operations that are the source of elevated levels of arsenic.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent $4 million since the 1990s trying to clean up the area.

Midas Gold has said modern mining makes reopening the pits economically feasible. The company said it would process spent tailings at the site to recover gold missed by previous miners, eliminating that source of pollution.

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