My turn: The truth about SEACC and dry-stack tailings

Agency has stated a preference for disposal technique for over a decade

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2007

There have been some letters and ads published lately that suggest Southeast Alaska Conservation Council opposed the dry-stack tailings disposal method for the Kensington Mine in 1997. These statements are false.

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Since 1991, SEACC has stated its preference for dry-land disposal of tailings over submarine disposal or dumping tailings in a lake because clean water is one of Alaska's most important resources.

To clear up any misunderstandings, in 1991 SEACC sent a letter to the Forest Service supporting dry-stack tailings disposal at the Kensington Mine. Since then, SEACC has maintained that position. Because of Berners Bay's extraordinary fisheries, cultural and recreation values, we have looked carefully and will continue to look carefully at any proposed tailings disposal at Kensington.

Of course SEACC has been open about its concerns regarding how a dry-stack tailings facility would be built or where it would be located, just as we have been open about our concerns that the current plan would set a bad precedent for clean water across the state. That's because one of our main goals is keeping Alaska's water clean far into the future.

In 1997, the Kensington Coalition was a collective of conservation groups, fishing organizations and other stakeholders who negotiated with Coeur Alaska during the planning process for the 1997 mine plan. SEACC was a part of this group and in good faith talked with the company and others to try to reach an agreement on the mine's plans. The Kensington Coalition specifically stated it was "committed to helping ensure that if a mine is approved, it is designed and developed in such a way as to avoid or minimize potential adverse effects." The Coalition asked Coeur to "Do it right."

In the 1997 review, SEACC did not oppose a dry-stack tailings facility. That said, SEACC chose not to actively support the mine. SEACC declined to sign off on the 1997 negotiations because of its larger concerns about the cumulative effects of the mine and other development proposals in Berners Bay, including a ferry terminal at Cascade Point, the proposed road out of Juneau and a hydroelectric plant near the Lace River in Berners Bay. SEACC remains concerned that the cumulative effects of these proposed developments have not been reviewed properly.

SEACC did not file a lawsuit over the 1997 plan or over the dry-stack tailings plan. For the current plan, SEACC sat down at the table repeatedly with Coeur, but the two parties were unable to resolve their differences. SEACC filed the current case against the Army Corps of Engineers - not Coeur - because dumping tailings in a lake violates the Clean Water Act, pure and simple. This permit puts clean lakes and streams across Alaska at risk. No amount of tricky rewording of agency regulations can get around that fact.

Coeur, rather then continuing to gamble with the jobs of its workers to increase profits for its shareholders, should do it right and develop a safe, legal tailings disposal plan for Kensington that protects Berners Bay and protects one of Alaska's greatest treasures - our clean water.

• Rob Cadmus is the water quality and mining coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

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