Emily Anderson, the Idaho Department of Lands public information officer, wanted my readers and I to understand why the Idaho Land Board voted 5-0 to continue leasing the bed of the Salmon River for gravel mining. I wrote about the issue in a blog last week and my Monday column, How long will the Salmon River remain a gravel mine?
The gist of the column is that environmentalists were going to continue to challenge the gravel mine because the Salmon River is considered Idaho’s most valuable.
Anderson sent me a fact sheet that shows that the board considered many of the issues raised by the 430 people and the Idaho Conservation League about the gravel mining of the Salmon River.
“Previous Land Boards have not permitted mineral extraction for sections of the river above Long Tom Bar and below Hammer Creek in order to address concerns about the scenic characteristics of the river. However, previous Land Boards intentionally left this area open for mineral extraction because it does not meet the standards of a Wild or Scenic river, and the Idaho Water Resource Board did not recommend any additional protections for this section of the Salmon River. In addition, this source is one of only two rock sources in the area that meet Idaho Transportation Department materials standards. The materials from this operation are a main source of ITD material for Highway 95 projects in the area. Testimony demonstrated that sufficient alternative sources do not exist in this area, and upland gravel sources have the potential for other impacts.
Here are the other issues she addressed:
"Recreation – The extraction operation normally is active outside of the prime time for floating, fishing, and other recreational activities on the river. The mining area appears to be just another gravel bar during the summer. In addition, this stretch of the river does not receive as much river traffic as other sections of the Salmon River. The number of floaters and anglers that pass by the mining area during the brief period it is active, or between the time it is mined and spring high water, appears to be small. No evidence of substantial complaints from fall and winter floaters or anglers was presented in testimony or comments.
Public input – Most of the written comments IDL received that opposed the application were written on a form letter and largely contained the same concerns. A number of other written comments, as well as most of the testimony given at the Feb. 21, 2012 public hearing supported the application. Thirty-seven members of the public attended that hearing, and only one person testified in opposition to the application. Also, it was intentionally arranged that public testimony would be accepted at the Land Board meeting on March 20, in order to provide members of the public another opportunity to present evidence and provide comments.
Harm to the river and the resources associated with it – No photos, monitoring data, or other evidence was submitted to support the statement that the operation would harm the river and the resources associated with it, especially salmonid fish species. The river channel has been stable for more than 40 years with mining at this location, and site specific conditions will keep it stable. Chinook spawning redds have increased in number, and mining operations are conducted in a manner to avoid impacts. Sedimentation from the mine area will not be an issue as long as operations continue to be conducted in the responsible manner prescribed in the approved operating plan."
In closing Anderson pointed out that public trust lands, including the beds of rivers, are managed for the public benefit, which includes commercial activities such as gravel mining, dam construction and diversions.
“Abundant testimony was given regarding the benefits provided to many members of the community, businesses, and the general public through the use of the mined aggregate in concrete and construction projects,” Anderson said.