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Feds Mull Comments on Eastern Idaho Phosphate Mine

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More time is needed to consider public comments following the release of an environmental study on plans by Monsanto Co. to open a new phosphate mine in eastern Idaho, federal officials say.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management said they need several additional months to make sure their final decision complies with the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and the Groundwater Protection Rule.

"We're pretty close to having the information we need to make a decision, maybe a month or two," said Jeff Cundick, minerals branch chief for the phosphate program of the Caribou National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management.

He added there are important issues that officials need to make sure were addressed appropriately in the environmental impact statement.

Monsanto is seeking approval to open the Blackfoot Bridge Mine in the area to produce ingredients for Roundup weedkiller because its current mine is expected to be depleted within a year and a half. The impact statement was released in early March following a process that included a draft impact statement.

Monsanto Co. officials said additional delays in opening the mine could harm the company financially and cost jobs.

"Many of the environmental safeguards designed into the Blackfoot Bridge Mine must be constructed when the ground is not frozen, and ambient temperatures are moderate to warm," Dave Farnsworth, minerals lead for Monsanto Soda Springs, told the Idaho State Journal. "In Soda Springs, that gives us a very short window for construction. If the delay is a few weeks, we may yet be able to make progress this year. A longer delay, however, could severely compromise our timetable for transition from the old mine to the new one. That, in turn, jeopardizes the competitiveness of our business and puts jobs at risk."

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