Coeur, environmentalists may try to negotiate

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An appeals court announcement could bring together a mine company and the environmental groups who filed suit against a critical part of the company's Kensington Mine plan.

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"The plaintiffs expressed the hope of working with Coeur on possible solutions to this issue. Separate and apart from any possible appeal of the Court order, we intend to take them up on that offer," said Dennis Wheeler, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines.

Wheeler was quoted in a prepared statement after a Friday announcement from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said it intended to rule in favor of environmental groups who have challenged Coeur's proposal for disposing of mine waste at the Kensington Mine, 40 miles north of Juneau.

Three environmental groups, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Sierra Club, contended the plan violated the Clean Water Act because it involved dumping tailings into Lower Slate Lake.

It had offered to work with Coeur in designing a disposal method that would protect water quality, fish and wildlife in Berners Bay.

Both Coeur and SEACC officials refused to comment on whether they had discussed negotiating plans.

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"We just encourage them to begin that process as quickly as possible and encourage them to realize that however they do it, we are going to be vigilant about watching out for water quality and resources at Berners Bay," said Russell Heath, SEACC's executive director.

"The ball is really in the mine's court," he said.

Coeur said it followed a regulatory process designed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers and believed the method to be the most sensitive to habitat.

"As a result, we are simply at a loss to explain the basis for the Court's decision. Once the Court releases a full explanation of its ruling, the company will consider all options of appeal," Wheeler said.

It wasn't clear when the final court ruling would be handed down.

Besides filing an appeal that could take the case to the Supreme Court, Juneau Assembly member and mine supporter Randy Wanamaker said there were several ways Coeur could respond to the ruling.

"They could simply fold up the project and call it quits. They could redesign quickly and re-permit the mine in a way that is economically feasible and work with SEACC to make sure that this is an acceptable mine plan.

"The third would be to come up with an alternative mine plan that is economically feasible and that SEACC would have objections to, but try and permit it anyway," he said.

Wanamaker said he did not know which option Coeur might take but hoped that it would choose one that would lead to an eventual opening of the mine.

Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. is one of the world's leading primary silver producers and a growing gold producer.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com



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