A federal judge has determined that two Montana men spent decades illegally mining a remote creek on National Forest land in northern Idaho and may charge them up to $1.9 million in restoration costs.
In a 15-page order, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge agreed with previous government assertions that miners Eugene Weiss, his son Max and fellow miners Bill Wikstrom and Bruce Blatherwick have all been operating on a mining claim that had expired in 1985, and that their continued dredge mining operation constituted trespass. Lodge also determined that the miners' activities have destroyed federal lands since that expiration date, injured habitat for endangered bull trout on Sherlock Creek and violated numerous rules set up by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Department of Agriculture.
The elder Weiss, now 84, has reportedly been mining the creek on and off since the 1960s. According to interviews with U.S. Attorneys, he had even been ordered to stop mining, after which he would usually "lie dormant" for several years before heading back into the creek.
Just a few of the heinous projects attributed to Weiss and Co.: They excavated ponds, pits and trenches in the stream bed of Sherlock Creek; they completely bulldozed a channel of a nearby tributary, sealing it off with a berm; they repeatedly crossed the creek in heavy equipment; they built a locked gate-on a Forest Service access road, no less-to hide their operation; and finally, Weiss spent years building and operating several large pieces of equipment on-site-including what is thought to be the largest mining dredge in the lower 48 states-and left them to leak oil and other fluids around the protected creek. According to some reports, simply removing the equipment could take as much as a year.
The court has ordered the men to immediately cease their activities, remove the equipment and provide an account of the value of the mineral deposits they removed. Restoration of the site is scheduled to begin this summer, but Lodge has not announced whether the bill will be sent to the responsible parties.