I believe everyone needs to clearly understand the Kensington Mine tailings issue that the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is protesting.
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Coeur Alaska must dispose of its tailings or it can't mine. The current 20-acre lake presently supports a very small fish population because it is dark and deep; when light can't penetrate very far into a lake there is minimal food production to support a fish population. Coeur proposes to slowly deposit tailings on the bottom of the lake, and over 10 years, build it up to a 60-acre, flat-bottomed lake.
The new 60-acre lake will have 20 feet of fresh water on top of the tailings. At 20 feet, sun light can penetrate, allowing for the production of food that will in turn support a viable fishery. Coeur has already proven that fish can spawn on top of the tailings, but it has agreed to put a cap of topsoil over the tailings at the bottom of the lake and organics too, if need be, to accelerate improvement of the habitat. And the whole time they are depositing the tailings into the lake, the discharge from the lake will go through a water treatment plant to ensure it meets the standards of the Clean Water Act.
In a nutshell: Coeur will be turning a 20-acre, nearly dead lake into a 60-acre vibrant fishery.
SEACC proposes that Coeur build a 160-acre "dry stack" on top of wetlands. The group is suing Coeur over the lake issue because it thinks this is its best chance to stop the mine. No sensible person in the world who really cares about the environment would choose the removal of 160 acres of wetlands over adding and improving fish habitat. Of course, SEACC didn't like the dry stack when it was proposed before. The organization likes it now because it knows Coeur Alaska will have to re-permit the mine, stopping it for many years if not forever.
SEACC should quit being hypocritical. It should admit it doesn't want the mine under any circumstances and be done with it. Most of Juneau still won't respect SEACC for the devious efforts it's using to stop the mine, but some might respect the group for being more honest.
Errol D. Champion
Former Assembly and Planning Commission member (1983-1994)
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