The Future for Pebble We Are Trying to Avoid

The scary dangerous Pebble Mine project took another body blow last week when First Quantum Minerals Ltd. backed out of an agreement it made with Northern Dynasty in mid-December. Pebble Mine is back on life support. But conservationists, salmon lovers and the fishing industry have thought the project was dead before, only to have it crawl back into our lives. So WC will try to drive another stake through the heart of the monster.

The mining industry has been here in Idaho for more than a hundred years. It’s legacy is a series of abandoned mines leaching pollution into Idaho’s waters. WC will look at the history of one such mine, its legacy and the ongoing, nightmarish problems it has created.

The Triumph Mine is located in the headwaters of the East Fork of the Big Wood River, a world-famous trout stream that flows through Hailey and Ketchum, Idaho and a lot of very expensive real estate around Sun Valley Ski Resort. The Triumph Mine was active more or less continuously from 1883 to 1957, producing lead, silver and zinc. Since then, it has passed through the hands of several owners, most of whom did nothing with the mine or the pollution leaching from the spoil and the running out of the adit. The pollution, including arsenic, manganese and cadmium, ran in to the East Fork of the Big Wood River.

The mess qualified as a Superfund site under the Clean Water Act. But the State of Idaho and Blaine County, where the mine is located, resisted classification of Triumph Mine as a Superfund site because when your principal industry is tourism, having a Superfund site nearby is kind of a bummer. The State of Idaho and Blaine County promised to work with the mine operators to clean the mess up.

That was in the 1990s. And, of course, Triumph Mine is still dumping heavy metals into the Big Wood River. You wouldn’t want to drink the water up there, or eat a fish you caught. Cadmium poisoning is seriously bad news.

The State of Idaho has kind of tried but mostly given up. The mine owners have filed bankruptcy. The crap is still running in to the river. And the State of Idaho, 20 years on, still doesn’t have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit in place. It’s a violation of the Clean Water Act. Idaho Conservation League,1 through its attorneys, Advocates for the West, have given the statutory sixty day notice before suing the State of Idaho in federal court, a lawsuit ICL is certain to win.

You can read the 60-day letter, if you are curious. It’s hardly a secret.

Why tell you about Triumph Mine? Because WC doesn’t want it to be the model for a possible Pebble Mine. “Letting contaminated mine water flow untreated – and without a permit – into the Big Wood River is unacceptable,” said Staff Attorney Bryan Hurlbutt. “This is yet another example of mining companies profiting and walking away, leaving Idahoans on the hook to cleanup the mess.”

WC doesn’t want to have Alaskans stuck with cleaning up a mess at Pebble Mine. And don’t try to tell WC that Pebble “will be different.” There are too many Triumph Mines across the West – and, for that matter, throughout the world – for such a claim to have any credibility. Northern Dynasty, if it gets the chance, will take its profit and walk away. Never doubt it.

We can’t let that happen. We won’t let that happen. Just say “No” to Pebble Mine.


  1. Disclaimer: WC is a member of the Board of Directors of Idaho Conservation League. Make of that what you will.