The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is proposing to settle a Clean Water Act case against Carl Grissom of West Richland, Wash., for unauthorized suction dredge mining in the South Fork Clearwater River in central Idaho in 2018. The agency is proposing that Grissom pay a $24,000 penalty.
Suction dredge operations can destroy fish eggs and newly hatched fish, EPA said. The eggs and fish can be sucked out of the gravel into the dredge, and they can be smothered and crushed with sand, silt and gravel from upstream dredging.
The South Fork Clearwater River is home to Snake River fall Chinook salmon and Snake River Basin steelhead, both of which are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The river is also designated as “Critical Habitat” for Snake River Basin steelhead under the ESA and as “Essential Fish Habitat” for Chinook and Coho salmon.
To protect these fish and their habitat, in 2018, EPA issued an updated General Permit For Small Suction Dredge Miners In Idaho that limits suction dredge operations in the South Fork Clearwater. Despite being notified by the Idaho Department of Water Resources that he may need to apply for coverage under the EPA General Permit, Grissom did not do so.
In October 2018, the Idaho Conservation League provided EPA with documentation of Grissom’s unauthorized suction dredge activity on July 15, 17, 18, 22, 25, 27, and 30, 2018; and on August 1 and 12, 2018.
The Clean Water Act allows the agency to seek a penalty of up to $22,584 for each day Grissom used a suction-dredge on the South Fork Clearwater without authorization.
EPA has published the proposed settlement for public notice and comment here.