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Idaho mining circa 2021: The road ahead

Idaho has been a mining state for more than 100 years with mines which have been operating for decades and it continues to attract explorers and developers of precious metals and other minerals. A Mining Journal Idaho CEO roundtable has brought together some of the most experienced names in the precious metals space to discuss the benefits of Idaho as a destination for mining investment as well as some of the general industry trends. Joining Mining Journal are Phillips Baker, president and CEO of Hecla Mining, Hugh Agro, president and CEO of Revival Gold, Cal Everett, president and CEO of Liberty Gold, George Salamis, president and CEO of Integra Resources, Laurel Sayer, president and CEO of Perpetua Resources (until recently known as Midas Gold), Darren Blasutti, president and CEO of Americas Gold and Silver, and Ben Davenport, president of the Idaho Mining Association.

Mining Journal asked roundtable participants what made Idaho an attractive place to develop modern mining projects.

Liberty Gold's Everett said the northern US state had a history of producing industrial, base and precious metals, and was under-explored with modern search methods with deposits that "can vary from Precambrian to Miocene".

"A lot of people don't understand or haven't recognized that southern Idaho is part is the same geology as western Utah and Nevada, and the Carlin style deposits that made Nevada famous occur in southern Idaho," Everett said.

"Everybody went to Nevada, but our exploration team likes to think off the grid and that resulted in the discovery of the Long Canyon mine in western Nevada in 2000 and it was sold to Newmont in 2011. They went into Black Pine [in Idaho] and recognised the same type oxide system."

Baker said Hecla had a long history in Idaho.

"After 130 years of being here we've seen the regulatory environment change dramatically," he said.

"Some changes are driven by the state, some are driven by federal mandates. But in all cases, we have a regulatory system that allows that evolution to occur while encouraging solutions. The states' regulatory environment is one where we identify ways to get to a solution, rather than just shutting things down."

Americas Gold and Silver's Blasutti said there was local political will to position Idaho to take advantage of its natural and physical resources.

"Where the world is going is going to be great for a lot of the metals in Idaho, especially silver," he said.

"When you couple that with the state with the best policy ranked by Fraser Institute, you have the best policy at the top of the leadership scale with [governors] Butch Otter and Brad Little that want to have investment in mining and you've got the groups inside the Idaho government that are staffed up. Everybody talks about how great Nevada is, while the local, provincial or state offices don't have enough people in there, and they can't get through the projects. Idaho brings together great policy, the support at the top and state people prepared to help you move your project forward."

The Idaho Mining Association's Davenport agreed.

"The Office of Energy and Mineral Resources was set up to find a way to say yes and not point out all the reasons why projects should not go forward or something can't get done. The governor's office, through OEMR has taken a lead role in trying to bring everybody to the table and keep the ball moving forward on some of these projects," he said.

Perpetua's Sayer said Idaho had "one of the lowest if not the lowest carbon source energy grids in the nation" and producers serious about lower carbon-intensity operations were advantaged in the state.

"Minerals here can benefit from using the low cost, low emissions energy grid," she said.

"We will be mining antimony and our gold. This valuable antimony by-product fits right into the ESG and mining and supply chain conversations because it is used in wind and hydro turbines, solar panels, large storage, battery, batteries and semiconductors. As ESG is elevated in the US, we have a great opportunity in Idaho to contribute to that end."

Permitting

Sayer said early engagement with government and project stakeholders was an essential part of building a new mine in the US in the current era.

"Tell your story to all levels of government and build relationships before you need something from them so they are very familiar with your project," she said.

"Respect the process. The NEPA process takes time; it's long, it's frustrating and it's bureaucratic, but I have seen our project improve with it. The vast majority of projects in Idaho will have a federal agency lead but we had the opportunity to initiate the joint review process where the state and the federal agencies coordinate together with the Idaho Office of Energy and Mineral Resources that acts as an overall coordinator for state agencies involved in the process and that has been extremely valuable for us."

Integra Mining's Salamis added: "Engage with your stakeholders as early as possible. We've started that, in terms of the NEPA process, which won't really kick-off for us until we finish the prefeasibility study and submit our plan of operations. That's when the official permitting process starts but we've engaged with the Bureau of Land Management, so we've started rolling on the permitting process."

Agro said the lesson was simply, "do right by the community, do right by the state, do right by the people you're working with and do right by society".

Reclamation

"These challenges are opportunities," said Sayer.

"We should absolutely prioritise mineral production in areas that are already disturbed and could benefit from modern restoration standards. The country needs a solution to abandoned mines and industry can and should be a part of those solutions.

"Industry brings the knowhow, the financial resources and the workforce to restore lands and rivers that improve water quality and habitat. We just need permission and a clear path. The biggest roadblock to abandoned mine clean-up has been a question of liability. There are willing volunteers from NGOs to industry who want to help be a part of this solution but they're held back by concerns of inheriting liability for a mess that they didn't create.

"Our recent agreement with the EPA and the Forest Service is a path forward for industry and to help be part of the solution, and the agreement allows us to show our commitment to initiate clean-up before any mining begins."