The Ketchum Ranger District is seeking public comments on a proposed barite exploratory drilling project at the southern end of the Pioneer Mountains.
BSM Barite Exploration, based in Newport Beach, Calif., proposes to build 16 drill pads and drill 22 holes on unpatented mining claims just north of the Sawtooth National Forest boundary at the head of Deep Gulch in the Muldoon Creek drainage.
Access to the drill sites would be mostly on existing roads built for earlier mining activities, but the project involves three-quarters of a mile of new road construction on hillsides. Sawtooth National Forest geologist Heidie Torrealday said the 30-by-20-foot pads would be constructed in the roads and the holes would be drilled one at a time. Drill holes would be 250 to 800 feet deep.
The work would begin June 1 and be concluded by Oct. 1, 2014, unless drill results appear promising. In that case, an amended plan of operation would need to be submitted to the Forest Service. If not, the holes would be plugged and all surface disturbance would be reclaimed, the Forest Service stated in a legal notice published in the Idaho Mountain Express on Nov. 27.
Barite is a mineral used for a wide range of industrial, medical and manufacturing purposes. Its primary use is as a weighting agent in drilling muds.
Torrealday said the potential extent of mining operations that could result if significant deposits of barite are found at the site is unknown at this point.
“This particular location is ill-suited as a potential industrial site and corridor.”
Idaho Conservation League
The proposed project is located within the Pioneer Idaho Roadless Area, which means that it will have to be reviewed by the Idaho Roadless Commission. The panel was established by the Idaho Roadless Rule, which protects nearly 9 million acres of Idaho’s 20 million acres of national forest in 250 roadless areas. It is made up of foresters, county officials, conservationists and industry representatives. It will also be reviewed by the Intermountain Region forester in Ogden, Utah.
“Those are some additional steps to make sure you’re not changing the character of a roadless area without some forethought,” Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said.
Nelson said many designated roadless areas have small, old roads in them. He said temporary new roads can be built in those areas so long as they are reclaimed when the work is done.
Dani Mazzotta, central Idaho associate for the Idaho Conservation League, said her organization is examining the proposed project and has concerns.
“Although this area has had some historical mining activity, the area is now designated as an inventoried roadless area and is of great value to wildlife such as elk,” Mazzotta said. “This particular location—Muldoon Creek and the Little Wood River—is ill-suited as a potential industrial site and corridor.”
Mazzotta said the ICL had successfully appealed other proposed mining projects because the applicants had not examined the potential impacts of groundwater contamination from drilling activities.
“We’re going to hold this project to the same standards,” she said.
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to District Ranger Kurt Nelson, 206 Sun Valley Rd., Ketchum, ID 83340. Comment deadline is Dec. 26.
Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress