Critics want greater say on Kensington

Forest Service takes written comments, but no oral remarks on impact statement

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Some Juneau residents who attended a Tuesday meeting about the Kensington Mine worried they weren't given a proper opportunity to voice their concerns about the project.

The Forest Service held a public meeting at Centennial Hall where people could mingle with representatives of the various agencies involved in the mine's supplemental environmental impact statement and permitting process. People were invited to submit written comments at a table in the hall, but there was no public hearing.

"(A hearing) was a good discussion of the issues, and I think purposely they have changed the format to defuse any controversy," said Juneau resident Skip Gray. "I think it's something we all need to start protesting in the future."

Steve Hohensee, the U.S. Forest Service's SEIS team leader for the Kensington proposal, said the agency considers written comments clearer.

"We prefer written comment because we can capture what somebody's trying to say," Hohensee said.

The gold mine, 45 miles north of downtown Juneau, already has been approved and permitted twice: once in 1992 and again in 1997. Since then, the company changed its plans to lower capital and operating costs, said Rich Richins, vice president of mine developer Coeur Alaska.

The draft SEIS includes Coeur's proposed changes to the mine plan as well as two viable alternatives. The original plan, which is also an alternative in the SEIS, would allow for the mining of 4,000 tons of ore per day. The plan proposed by Coeur would allow for the mining of 2,000 tons of ore per day and correspondingly includes a smaller tailings facility.

Juneau resident Aaron Brakel said he is concerned about the possibility of the mine extending its operations beyond the 10-year period specified in the proposal.

"I want to know where they're going to store the rest of the tailings," Brakel said.

He also said he didn't like the wet tailings facility in the proposed alternative, which would call for depositing tailings into Lower Slate Lake.

"I don't think just because you put a dam in front of a creek that you can dump the mine waste into the creek," Brakel said.

Bob Hamilton, president of Kootznoowoo Inc., Angoon's Native corporation, said he supports Coeur's proposal because it has the least amount of environmental impact of any of the alternatives. Hamilton also said the mine would provide work for residents of Angoon, which has a high unemployment rate.

Ty Stafford, an employee of the Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island, said he supports the mine because it will bring in jobs. He said he's confident that the environmental regulations will do their job to protect the area.

"With all the rules and regulations, it gets managed extremely well," Stafford said.

Coeur has said the mine will create 325 construction jobs and 225 full-time permanent jobs.

But Kat Hall of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council points to an analysis included in the draft SEIS estimating only 20 percent of mine hires will be local. That estimate was done by the SEIS contractors, and Richins said he disagrees with their analysis.

"We have a very strong local hire policy. At our other operations we're running about 92 percent local hire," Richins said.

He said Coeur has a Native hire preference for the Kensington Mine and that the company will shoot for a 90 percent local-hire rate here. Richins said Coeur has been talking with the University of Alaska Southeast and the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development about restarting a vocational mining industry program at the university.

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