GARDEN VALLEY, Idaho - A proposed mine project could drastically change the landscape of the Boise Basin physically and economically.
It could create hundreds of jobs, but some worry it could also create a lot of environmental problems.
It would be massive, but so far, it seems very few people know about the plan, even those living near it.
Mining made Boise County what it once was. Many years ago, the riches in its mountains and streams drew miners by the thousands, all seeking their fortune.
The streamside scars and many abandoned mines remain, but the jobs largely moved on.
"Typically our young people have to leave the county for high paying jobs," said Boise County Commissioner Jamie Anderson.
Like most of the country, Boise County is feeling the effects of the economy. Its unemployment rate stands at 9.5 percent.
"It's been difficult," said Mercantile owner Greg Simione.
Simione owns the Mercantile in the Garden Valley town of Crouch. He says customers are spending less.
"Last winter was really tough. We had to lay off some employees," he said.
But a major mine proposed for the nearby hills could someday bring a lot more people through the merc's doors. It's called the Cumo Mine.
The site is in the backcountry between Garden Valley and Idaho City.
Workers with Vancouver, British Columbia based Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines are now drilling for core samples to figure out if the area is worth mining. The company president says it looks very promising.
"It's a world class deposit," said Mosquito Consolidated President Brian McClay.
McClay estimates the ore is worth between $10 billion and $16 billion.
The area contains copper and silver, but the main mineral is molybdenum, which is known as "moly." It's used to strengthen steel.
McClay says if the project goes through, it would create hundreds of construction jobs, 500 or so permanent jobs on site, and countless indirect jobs.
"Large revenue generating, large employer, large tax generator. This will probably be one of the richest counties in idaho," said Mosquito Consolidated President Brian McClay.
The economics make the project intriguing to Boise County Commissioner Jamie Anderson.
"And there would be that benefit for the future of the young people of this county to have an employment base, high paying jobs," Anderson said.
Simione, who is also the Garden Valley Chamber of Commerce President, agrees.
"We want to enhance the economic development of our valley, thus the county, but also preserve quality of life," he said.
And therein lies the dilemma: economics vs. the environment.
Mosquito Consolidated says the moly deposit is one of the world's largest accessible by open pit mining. McClay says the site would be bigger than the Thompson Creek moly mine near Challis.
Basically, the operation would turn a mountain into a pit. Not only would there be a big pit, but also immense piles of waste rock and tailings.
The site sits near Grimes Creek, which flows into More's Creek and then into the Boise River. The Idaho Conservation League and other environmental groups worry about possible pollution such as Acid Mine Drainage.
"The river here is the lifeblood of the Treasure Valley. Not only does it provide 20 percent of Boise's drinking water, but it's also an important source for irrigation and recreation," said John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League.
"When you're moving a mountain, literally tearing a mountain down and putting the spoils in all of the valleys, which percolate water through, you're talking a timebomb," said Pam Elkovich with Trout Unlimited.
But McClay says the company's environmental studies show no risk.
"The rock is acid neutralizing. So there's no concern there," McClay said.
"This is exactly what other open pit mines have said before, and these mines ended up having water quality problems," said John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League.
"If I felt I would endanger any man, woman or child or any living thing, I'd stop. You know I'd drop the project like a hot rock," McClay said. He says they are assessing every concern imaginable.
A statement on Mosquito Consolidated's website says "In fact, the mine development should lead to an overall improvement in the environment rather than a degradation."
We asked McClay to explain that.
"Well, like I said, there's been extensive placer mining. They used mercury which is pure and simply a killer and so all of that will be reclaimed and reworked and neutralized."
"Now is the time for people to educate themselves, not only about the value of the Boise River, but about the risks upstream," said John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League.
"A project this size impacts a lot of people, and we want their input," McClay said.
He says the project is in its very early stages, and actual mining could be five or ten years away, and that's if they determine it would be feasible and profitable and no major problems pop up.
The people we talked to in Boise County will be watching closely with open minds but wary eyes, deciding if they want to reclaim the county's mining past as part of their future.
"It should be on the table to figure out how does it benefit us, but whoa on the other side. What could the impacts be?" Simione said.
"As all of us do value this quality of life, and that is the challenge; to preserve that and survive economically," Anderson said.
"This will be. This will be interesting," Simione said.
The U.S. Forest Service expects to approve the next phase of the project early next year.
That would allow Cumo to continue drilling to determine the size of the deposit and whether it's worth going forward with the project
The Forest Service will make the report available on its website when it's finished, and accept written input on it from the public.
See "Related Items" near the top of this story for more sources on the project.
You can also contact the Idaho Conservation League by calling John Robison 345-6933 ext. 13. You can also speak with the U.S. Forest Service Idaho City Ranger District at 208-392-6681.