My turn: Faulty arguments used against Kensington

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2007

In response to the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council's article by Anissa Berry-Frick (Jan. 21), I offer a few very important facts.

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The Kensington Mine plan has been upheld by all the appropriate government agencies, the State of Alaska, and the Federal District Court in Alaska. What SEACC calls "illegal" is simply a code word that means "we don't like it."

The article is further evidence of the group's continued opposition to any mining or sustainable development project in Alaska. Even more to the point, the tailings disposal plan the group allegedly now prefers is exactly the same one it rejected in 1998. Coeur Alaska does not have a permit for that disposal method, and SEACC knows it. Let's compare Berry-Frick's statements with the facts:

Berry-Frick writes: "(SEACC's) board of directors understand and appreciate the importance of jobs to Alaskan families. ... Coeur's advertisement is dishonest. The jobs at the Kensington Mine are only threatened if Coeur's plan to dispose of its waste is illegal. It is Coeur's responsibility to act within the law. Unfortunately it didn't act responsibly - it gambled. ... It gambled by trying to sidestep the Clean Water Act. ... its waste disposal design was illegal. ... We even tried talking directly with Coeur about alternatives. ... The lawsuit was our last resort to ensure that this mine operated legally. ... In 1998, Coeur had a fully permitted plan for the Kensington Mine that stored its tailings on land. ... Yet Coeur dropped this (land disposal) plan to look for a cheaper one. ... The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using this mine as a test case ... (which) sets the stage for other mines."

SEACC "understands and appreciates the importance of jobs" - as long as you don't work in a natural resource development industry.

Coeur's ad is factual. If SEACC prevails in its legal challenge, the jobs of some 400 workers at Kensington will be at risk.

SEACC and the Sierra Club are the only ones who make the claim that Coeur's plan to dispose of its waste is illegal. In truth, the mine already has a legal, fully approved plan to dispose of waste rock. The plan has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service and others. And it actually results in improved water quality and fisheries habitat.

Coeur has followed the law and all applicable regulations, which is one reason why the plan was upheld by a Federal District Court in Alaska.

The mine acted responsibly in that it has all of its required permits (nearly 60 of them) from various federal, state and local agencies.

The Clean Water Act applies to all navigable waters of the United States, including lakes, and we're proud to say that the mine plan is fully compliant with the act.

Not only is the design legal, but it was developed by a team of the world's best engineers and scientists who specialize in tailings treatment facilities. The design was also subject to third-party audits and analyses.

SEACC has only pretended to seek compromise. Coeur engaged in lengthy discussions with SEACC to address this issue. They were unwilling to compromise and ultimately walked away from the table.

Federal and state agencies are doing their jobs to ensure that the mine is operating legally and responsibly.

Coeur no longer has the 1998 permit, and SEACC knows it. The agencies granted us the current permit because it is the best available method.

Kensington adopted the current disposal plan after 900 studies and many years of public involvement. It is environmentally superior to the earlier plan because it affects a much smaller surface area, it results in half the fuel consumption, and is not visible from Berners Bay or Lynn Canal.

This comment suggests that SEACC has a preference for land-based tailings disposal (also called dry stacking). The written record shows that SEACC rejected dry stacking in 1998, and SEACC knows there is no current permit for dry stacking.

Her statement that "a test case ... sets the stage for other mines" is untrue. The 404 permitting process has been used countless times whenever there is a potential discharge into waters of the U.S. The process ensures that each case is fully examined and scrutinized before the permit is issued.

SEACC knows we have no option but the permitted plan; they also know dry stacking method is an inferior method for Kensington.

SEACC knows exactly what it is doing. SEACC has felt the heat of our pointing out that this group is risking the welfare of our 400 workers. SEACC is trying to justify its attempt to stop a mine that has obtained all required permits in a perfectly legal and ethical manner. The heat is well deserved, and it is within their power to solve this predicament by withdrawing their lawsuit and working with Coeur on advancing an environmentally state-of-the-art mining operation.

• Tim Arnold is the vice-president and General Manager for Coeur Alaska.

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