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Monsanto Rounds up Support, Dissent for Idaho Mine

SODA SPRINGS, Idaho - As it races to replenish phosphate supplies for its weed-killing cash machine Roundup, Monsanto Co. insists its history of polluting southeastern Idaho's high country shouldn't prevent it from digging fresh open pits here.

Three of the St. Louis-based chemical company's previous mines in this region of broad valleys and forested ridges are under federal Superfund authority; a fourth is now violating federal clean water laws. In all, several companies are responsible for polluting at least 17 sites southwest of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

With its current mine in the region nearly played out, Monsanto now wants federal regulators to let the company open a new one by 2011, contending safeguards on the project will keep poisons out of the Blackfoot River. The trout stream just a few hundred yards away is among 15 southeastern Idaho waterways where selenium that leaked from mines exceeds legal state levels.

David Farnsworth, Monsanto mining manager, walked the 1,400-acre Blackfoot Bridge site in late July, describing a liner meant to stop pollution. Even if it fails, he said, vast containment ponds below will keep poisons out of rivers downstream.

"The best laid plans show that Mother Nature changes the game plan," Farnsworth said. "The water shouldn't become contaminated, but if it does, there are the means to handle it."

Marv Hoyt, of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Idaho Falls, counters Monsanto and fertilizer makers J.R. Simplot Co. and Agrium Inc. have squandered all trust with their past pollution.

At J.R. Simplot's Conda site, hundreds of sheep died in the 1990s after eating toxic forage. Nearby, Canada's Agrium is spending $500,000 at its North Maybe Mine to control selenium discharges blamed by state wildlife officials for killing all aquatic life in a creek. 
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