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News / Northwest

Open-pit phosphate mines approved in Idaho

Area contains one of nation’s most abundant deposits

By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press
Published: August 16, 2019, 10:35pm

BOISE, Idaho — Federal officials have approved two open-pit phosphate mines in eastern Idaho that include environmental protections intended to prevent the type of pollution caused by past phosphate mining in the area.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Thursday it approved the Caldwell Canyon Mine project in Caribou County about 13 miles northeast of Soda Springs.

Bayer subsidiary P4 Production will develop the mines on three phosphate leases. Bayer acquired agricultural giant Monsanto, which previously mined the area, for $63 billion last year.

The company in the Final Environmental Impact Statement released in May said approving the mines would mean 185 miners working at its nearby Blackfoot Bridge Mine would transition to the new mine as the current mine runs out of phosphate ore.

The company also said opening the new mine would preserve 585 jobs at its processing plant in Soda Springs for the 40-year life of the mine.

The company didn’t return a call Friday seeking further details.

“The Caldwell Canyon Mine is a vital part of the Idaho economy,” said William Perry Pendley, acting head of the Bureau of Land Management. “This project’s approval means decades of additional job security and economic development for communities in the surrounding area, and the BLM is proud to play a part in sustaining those benefits.”

Idaho’s congressional delegation — Republican U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and U.S. Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher — applauded the BLM’s approval of the plan.

“This record of decision from the BLM is the result of years of collaboration and I am very pleased and grateful for those who worked to make it possible,” Simpson said.

The area contains one the nation’s most abundant deposits of phosphate ore that’s turned into fertilizer needed by farmers to grow food. Idaho-based Simplot also has a mine in the area.

The final plan for P4 Production’s mine involves two open pits covering about 1,200 acres. Most of that is on private land, while about 140 acres is on BLM land, and 200 acres are on Idaho endowment land. State officials have already approved the lease on that land.

The Idaho Conservation League, an environmental watchdog group, said it was pleased the company used some of its ideas to minimize environmental impacts, including avoiding building roads in sensitive habitat and taking precautions to protect water quality.

“Mining at this scale can have a significant impact on the environment, so it’s very important that if it’s going to go forward, it’s done well,” said Justin Hayes, the group’s executive director.