A miner who admitted to using equipment to suck up gold from the bed of a 62-mile-long river in north central Idaho has been fined $150,000 by a federal judge for failing to receive the proper permits.
Shannon Poe, of California, had the civil penalty levied against him by U.S. Magistrate Judge Raymond Patricco on Wednesday. The Idaho Conservation League had brought legal action against Poe, alleging he'd been suction dredge mining the South Fork of the Clearwater River on more than three dozen occasions from 2014 to 2018 without permits required under the federal Clean Water Act.
In a news release, the Idaho Conservation League called the fine "one of the largest Clean Water Act penalties against an individual in Idaho."
"Judge Patricco's decision should be a warning to anyone who flouts the rules designed to protect clean water," Jonathan Oppenheimer, the conservation league's external relations director, said in a statement.
Attorneys for the conservation group argued that the suction dredging method pulls sediment up from the river's floor to be sorted for gold, with waste materials discarded back into the river, affecting aquatic life that includes several species of trout and salmon. The method also leaves holes and waste rock piles on the riverbed floor, requiring the pollution discharge permit.
Poe, whose attorneys could not be reached for comment Thursday, did not dispute his mining activities, which took place in part on a stretch of the river about 10 miles west of Elk City, according to court documents. He argued that the disturbed sediment was not pollution as defined by federal law and fought the conservation group's claim that he was liable for more than a half million dollars in damages, in part because the river has been identified as an impaired waterway due to excessive sediment and temperature pollution.
Patricco noted in his opinion that suction dredge mining is allowed with proper permitting on the river.
"This penalty represents less than 8% of the maximum possible penalty, yet can still be read consistently with the penalties imposed in analogous cases," Patricco wrote.
The judge also issued an order preventing Poe from future suction dredge mining on the river. His attorneys said that Poe had not mined the river since 2018.