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In an April 2 My Turn column, Russell Heath, the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said Coeur Alaska has attempted to break the law, specifically the Clean Water Act, by developing a mine plan that would place inert tailings fill into "waters of the U.S.," even though such action is in full compliance with nearly 60 federal, state and local permits.
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As the person responsible for obtaining those permits and managing three major environmental impact statements, I feel compelled to respond to a number of misstatements made by Heath and his organization.
1) America's commitment to clean water has always taken into account a balance of water uses including recreation, fisheries, domestic water supply, agricultural and industrial (mining) uses, demanding "clean water" at the end of the pipe. This is Kensington's plan: the highest level of water treatment resulting in cleaner water at the discharge than currently exists in the lake. It is simply untrue to claim the industrial use of water is an inherent violation of the Clean Water Act.
2) The Kensington Mine plan is in fact supported by more than 900 engineering and environmental studies and backed by both regulation and policy directives from the state of Alaska, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is untrue to claim that Coeur headed into "uncharted waters" with its proposal to place tailings fill into Lower Slate Lake.
3) In Alaska, the Fort Knox, Pogo and Red Dog mines all place treated tailings fill into "waters of the U.S." It is untrue to claim that "no hard-rock mine had been granted a permit to dispose of tailings into the nation's water in a generation."
4) Coeur's overriding goal is to complete the project, operate the mine in an environmentally responsible manner, pay our workers and our suppliers, pay our taxes, support the local community and generate financial returns for our shareholders. SEACC's goal was and remains to delay the Kensington project beyond economic feasibility in court, thus risking 400 badly needed high-paying jobs in Southeast Alaska, more than 50 percent of these being affiliated with Alaska Natives.
5) The record shows that SEACC chose not to sign the long-negotiated Kensington Coalition Litigation Avoidance Agreement (which involved dry-stack tailings) in 2000. Heath clearly misstates SEACC's position regarding his organization's so-called support for alternative tailings fill methods.
6) Coeur has created numerous newspaper and radio advertisements to explain our position to the people of Alaska. One of those ads was an open letter from our workers to SEACC's board members, each of whom was named individually. In the ad, our workers expressed concern for their jobs. Certain of our other ads have criticized SEACC's positions. These advertisements hardly constitute "attacks" on SEACC, as characterized by Heath.
Some 76 percent of Juneau's residents support the Kensington Mine, as do the U.S. Forest Service, EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the city of Juneau.
SEACC's board should also consider the recent resolutions and letters from legislators, the Juneau Assembly, the Haines Borough, the Berners Bay Consortium (Goldbelt, Kake Tribal Corp. and Klukwan Inc.), Kake Tribal, Klukwan, Huna Totem, Juneau Chamber of Commerce, Juneau Economic Development Council and Southeast Conference.
Coeur is a leader in the mining industry in environmental management. Coeur has done it right.
Rick Richins, a Juneau and Boise resident, handles special projects for Coeur Alaska.