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E. Idaho tribe opposes land swap involving J.R. Simplot Co. 6-20-07

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) - Officials with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are opposing a proposed land swap between J.R. Simplot Co. and the Bureau of Land Management, fearing the company will use the land it receives for phosphate mine waste that could degrade local air quality and pollute the Portneuf River.

The land swap in southeastern Idaho would trade 680 acres of key mule deer winter range near Blackrock Canyon that Simplot owns in exchange for 719 acres of BLM property near the company's phosphate production area.

Rick Phillips, a spokesman for Simplot, said the trade would allow the company to expand its gypsum stack, a pile of gray dirt that remains after phosphate is removed from slurry.

Southeast Idaho contains large deposits of phosphate, which is used for agricultural chemicals and fertilizer.

“The long-term viability of the Don Plant depends on our ability to handle that gypsum product,” Phillips told the Idaho State Journal.

The Don Plant is a manufacturing plant on the west edge of Pocatello that converts phosphate ore to fertilizer.

The tribes contend not enough research has been done on how the trade would affect the environment.

“(The BLM) didn't go into very much detail in their scoping of the controversial nature and impacts of phosphogypsum on the environment,” said Roger Turner, air quality manager with the tribes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site says phosphogypsum is a radioactive waste product created when processing phosphate ore. It decays to form radon, a cancer-causing, radioactive gas.

The BLM announced the trade last summer and a public meeting was held. Local officials with the BLM recommended the transfer be approved, but that has not yet been approved by managers higher in the agency.

David Pacioretty, Pocatello field office manager for the BLM, said the possible pollution that could result on the land traded to Simplot is a separate problem that's not considered in the trade, but would be considered by other state and federal agencies once Simplot owns the land.

He said if Simplot wants to expand its gypsum pile on the land it receives, it would have to go through an application process with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
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