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The Empire's Jan. 23 article on the expansion of the Greens Creek Mine failed to tell the whole story. While increased production may do wonders for mine operator Kennecott's profits, the public may be caught holding the bag if the mine shuts down.
What the article didn't tell you is that, over the life of the mine, Kennecott plans to dispose millions of cubic yards of toxic waste in its tailings and waste rock dumps on Admiralty Island. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Greens Creek Mine was the second largest producer of toxic waste among all companies in Alaska in 1998, and ranked 16th among mining companies nationwide. All the waste from increased production has to go somewhere, and it ends up on the rich wildlands of Admiralty Island.
Recently, Kennecott hired an independent consultant to assist the company and state and federal agencies in a review of the mine's operations. The consultant verified that Greens Creek's waste rock is producing contaminants including zinc, cadmium, nickel, lead and nitrates. They also found that the waste dumps have a high potential to generate acid and leach heavy metals into the soil and water. Acid mine drainage (AMD) is often regarded as the single largest adverse environmental impact caused by mining. Once it starts, it's nearly impossible to stop. AMD poses a serious threat to the land, waters, wildlife and salmon populations within and around Admiralty Island.
Admiralty Island is a national treasure and is important to many folks in Southeast for hunting, fishing, tourism and recreation. What's being done to guarantee AMD doesn't start? Can the public be sure we won't be footing the bill if serious problems plague this mine?
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council