My Turn: A practicable, sustainable plan for Kensington Mine

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2005

Last week the Forest Service issued their record of decision for the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the Kensington Mine, selecting "Alternative D." This decision could ultimately allow Coeur Alaska to construct a 2,000-tons-per-day underground mine and Lower Slate Lake tailings storage facility.

The selected project would also involve daily transport of mine workers by boat, operating across Berners Bay. Importantly, literally all project components which make up the Kensington Mine are subject to additional approvals of a final plan of operations by the Forest Service, and the final permits for the tailings facility (Environmental Protection Agency), docks (Army Corps of Engineers), tailings dam (Alaska Department of Natural Resources), and other state and federal permits. Clearly, the pathway for final approvals and construction of the mine is now in place. However, these authorizations will be subject to additional environmental monitoring and mitigation requirements which are now being carefully worked out between Coeur and the respective agencies.

In making this important decision, the forest supervisor considered many concerns raised by the involved agencies and participating publics. His scrutiny involved many environmental experts and highly trained engineers. I know, because I managed the FSEIS from the company's perspective. This was my third time around; first in 1992, then 1997, and now. Never has the project been more intensely examined from a scientific and public perspective. And in the final analysis, the best environmental alternative, the only one that is "practicable" (feasible from an economic, logistical and technological standpoint), was selected. The selected project will be constructed because it can be built to the highest environmental standards. At closure, a larger, more productive lake will be restored. The long-term elimination of more than 150 acres of wetlands for a dry-stack tailings facility will not occur. The project will not be subject to temporary closures due to fluctuating gold prices. It will cost $91.5 million; not $241 million to build. Operating costs will be about $222 per ounce; not $360 per ounce. It will consume one-half the energy requirements of the dry-stack alternative. It will in all likelihood be the most intensely monitored mining project ever built. The project will be economic, and will provide over 200 high-paying jobs because it is practicable; and it is environmentally sound.

Coeur is now diligently working with the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies in a formal consultation process, to develop a transportation alternative which will not adversely affect marine mammals. Significantly, this is the purpose of the consultation. Contrary to what some environmental advocacy groups have suggested in their undocumented assertions, the NMFS, the Forest Service, the state of Alaska, and other agencies are not in the business of approving transportation and mining proposals that would adversely affect marine mammals and the environment.

"Sustainability" is an often-used environmental term these days. Kensington will be sustainable, or by our definition, continuing and "self-supporting without burden," because it is a practicable, low-cost gold producer. Because it is sustainable, Coeur will implement an extensive monitoring and mitigation program. It will be done the right way.

All of us do share the responsibility to ensure that our children benefit from the same opportunities and uses of Berners Bay riches we now enjoy. All of us deserve no less. This is Coeur's goal, and it is the community's goal. It is the goal of the commercial fishermen, tour operators, teachers and students, and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and their member organizations. It is a shared goal, and a sustainable one. Working together toward a common balance of resource development and environmental protection, we can achieve that goal. My experience during these past 16 years tells me this can and will be done.

• Rick Richins is Coeur Alaska's Kensington Mine project director.

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