BONNERS FERRY, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has given an Australia-based mining company permission to conduct exploratory drilling at eight locations at Hall Mountain in northern Idaho to search for rare earth elements.
The agency tells the Bonner County Daily Bee (http://bit.ly/1iPYmIl) in a story on Friday that MMG Limited plans to start drilling in July. Officials say the company hopes to develop a three-dimensional model of subsurface mineral deposits.
Additional steps would be needed if the company decides it wants to develop a mine, including submitting another proposed plan. That would trigger environmental studies and a round of public comments.
U.S. Geological Survey officials say Hall Mountain contains tons of thorium, a radioactive element that is viewed as a potential sustainable energy source. There are also rare earth elements, a key ingredient in laptop computers, cellphones and other household electronics that are almost exclusively mined in China.
Some area residents oppose the mine due to concerns about pollution and radioactivity.
"Besides the radioactive materials that you end up with, you've got a huge amount of nasty toxics like cadmium," said Ronald McLaughlin, a resident in the area. "It's ugly stuff. We need to preemptively stop any further agreements."
The Idaho Conservation League tried to stop the exploratory drilling out of concern it would displace threatened grizzly bears.
"We were concerned that if you bring in a bunch of drill rigs into grizzly bear habitat, then the bears are going to move out of the area," said spokesman Brad Smith.
MMG Limited has agreed to build a shelter lined with acoustic-absorbing panels around drill units and to use equipment that reduces noise.
A decision by the company about opening a mine is several years away.
"What they've told us is that it's going to take three to five years just on their side to evaluate what they're looking at with the core samples," said John Kirchner, a spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.