My turn: Kensington has a golden opportunity

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Just about everyone I know in Alaska expects responsible behavior from our neighbors and fellow citizens.

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We support laws that prohibit dumping antifreeze down the drain. If an unmarked truck pulls up to a stream and dumps a leaky barrel or two of some unidentified substance, we put down our fishing poles and call 911. We expect people to protect the resources that everyone shares, like our clean water, fisheries and wide open spaces. We count on people to act respectfully toward each other.

It is only common sense that the mining industry be held responsible and accountable to protect Alaska's clean water, fisheries and the people that rely on these resources. That's the neighborly thing to do. Dumping toxic tailings into a lake rich with fish and aquatic life is not a responsible course of action.

Most Alaskans would agree it would be absolutely unacceptable for you or your neighbor to use Alaska's lakes and streams as a dump for dangerous, toxic waste. Why should Coeur Alaska, operators of Kensington - be allowed to do it? Fortunately, the 9th Circuit Court agreed. Alaska's clean water is too valuable to risk contamination. The Army Corp of Engineers was wrong to allow the dumping of toxic tailings into clean water. This would have been the first mine since the Clean Water Act allowed to do this, setting a precedent that could have allowed other mines to do the same.

The Kensington Mine's plan to use Lower Slate Lake as a disposal site violates the Clean Water Act, clear and simple. The plan that was rejected would have dumped 210,000 gallons per day of toxic waste into a lake rich with fish and aquatic life. An alternative exists. Many mines, such as the Pogo Mine in Interior Alaska and the Greens Creek Mine in Southeast Alaska, use a tailings disposal method that is similar to technology used in landfills. In fact, the Kensington Mine even once had a fully approved permit for the "dry stack tailings" method, but it chose instead to push a less expensive lake dumping plan. The dry stack tailings method is more expensive. It requires more workers and energy to move and stack the tailings, but isn't our clean water worth it? With the current price of gold more than $600.00 an ounce, you'd think Coeur Alaska could afford to hire more workers and do it right.

Before the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, mining companies often dumped their tailings waste into lakes and rivers, resulting in catastrophic consequences for fish and human health. There are numerous mining sites listed for cleanup under the EPA's Superfund program. Superfund is the federal program that is responsible for investigating and overseeing cleanup of uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the nation. In western United States, over 35 mines have been identified as Superfund sites. I'm grateful for the conservation community's commitment to seeing that Alaska doesn't add to that number. The mining industry isn't interested in self-policing their behavior. Good neighbors look out for each other and expect responsible behavior when issues or projects come up that affect the entire community. Coeur Alaska needs to meet these same standards of responsible, acceptable behavior and start being a better neighbor. It's an opportunity it shouldn't waste.

Alaskan's for Responsible Mining is a coalition of concerned organizations working to make mining in Alaska publicly accountable and fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible.

• Vanessa Salinas is the campaign director for Alaskans for Responsible Mining in Anchorage.



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