Conservation group drops suit over river dredging

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - An Idaho conservation group has dropped its lawsuit challenging state approval of a plan to dredge a stretch of the Salmon River for gold.

The Idaho Conservation League on Wednesday filed paperwork in 4th District Court voluntarily dismissing its petition for judicial review, backing away from its lawsuit because Mike Conklin of Grangeville scrapped his plans to dredge the river.

"We are pleased that Mr. Conklin has voluntarily abandoned his proposal to dredge mine the bed of the Salmon River," Jonathan Oppenheimer of the environmental group said in a statement. "The case highlighted the risk that Idaho's rivers face from the growing threat of suction dredge gold mining."

Conklin said he declined to mine that part of the river because tests failed to produce gold.

ICL sued on Oct. 10, not long after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the rest of the Idaho Land Board approved an exclusive mineral lease for Conklin to suction dredge a half-mile section of the Salmon River for gold and garnets. Conklin in mid-September was awarded a five-year lease by the state land board for exclusive access to a half-mile stretch of river downstream of Riggins.

In its lawsuit, ICL argued the state needed to approve a reclamation plan before approving suction dredge leases. ICL officials said they also won state assurances that if Conklin changed his mind, he would have to go through the entire lease process again.

"We look forward to working with the Idaho Department of Lands, the Idaho Land Board and others to protect the Salmon River, consistent with its unique and outstanding value to all Idahoans," Oppenheimer said. "We'll be working to promote limits that safeguard other river users, fisheries, valuable wildlife and clean water, or that protect certain stretches of particularly treasured rivers. After all, there's only one Salmon River."