Judge: Lawsuit can proceed against suction-dredge miner

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A U.S. judge in Idaho has rejected a California man’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by an environmental group alleging he did suction dredging for gold in Idaho rivers without required federal permits.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush wrote in a decision released Monday that the Idaho Conservation League has standing to sue, but its allegations against Shannon Poe must still be tested in court.

Bush wrote that Poe, of Concord, California, said in multiple online posts that he dredged the South Fork of the Clearwater River in defiance of the need to obtain permits.

The Idaho Conservation League in 2018 filed a citizen enforcement lawsuit contending Poe was violating the federal Clean Water Act by dredging in critical habitat of protected steelhead, salmon and bull trout.

Federal and state agencies repeatedly notified Poe of the violations, but he denies being subject to the Clean Water Act, according to the lawsuit. The group also said Poe was encouraging unpermitted mining by other gold seekers in Idaho rivers.

“This ruling sends a strong message to Mr. Poe and other dredge miners who refuse to follow the rules in Idaho that they are not above the law,” said Bryan Hurlbutt, an attorney at Advocates for the West who represents the conservation group.

Poe’s attorney, Constance Brooks, didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday.

Suction dredge miners use an underwater hose to suck up gravel and sort it for gold in a sluice box mounted on a watercraft. The sediment is discharged downstream.

Critics say the dredging can destroy fish spawning beds, and that discharged sediment can smother fish eggs.

The judge said the group’s lawsuit meets the standard for sufficient injury and the allegations sufficiently “trace the injury to Mr. Poe’s challenged conduct.”

The lawsuit asks Bush to impose civil penalties that can surpass $50,000 a day.