The state of Alaska announced Monday it has issued all 12 of its authorizations for the Kensington gold mine, now leaving final decisions on the mine up to federal regulators.
"From the state's perspective, we think it's a pretty tight project," said Ed Fogels, mining coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Gov. Frank Murkowski said in a prepared statement that the state's work on two mine-related ferry terminals, road construction and fish passage permits presents an example of "a balanced approach" between industrial development and environmental protection.
But Juneau environmentalist John Hudson took issue with the governor's claim of balanced decision-making.
"Filling a lake with mine waste and marring the bay's shoreline with marine terminals will ruin this area for recreationists, not to mention threaten herring and eulachon populations and the marine life that depends on them," said Hudson, a member of the Friends of Berners Bay environmental group.
A Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. official said Monday the state's decision will keep the project on track for a July construction start.
"The company is very pleased with the state completing its permits," said Luke Russell, the corporation's director of environmental affairs.
The National Marine Fisheries Service maintains its objection to a major component of the project - locating one of the ferry docks for the mine at Cascade Point, a spawning location for Lynn Canal's remnant herring population.
The fisheries service has asked that the dock be located outside of Berners Bay.
The dock's permit, sought by Juneau's urban Native corporation, Goldbelt Corp., remains under review by the U.S. Corp of Engineers. The Corps has final authority for all but one of the remaining project components for the Kensington Mine.
The Corps hopes to publish its final decision for all its project components, including disposal of mine tailings in a subalpine lake, on June 15, Juneau field office manager John Leeds said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing a water pollution discharge permit for the mine.
Biologists with the fisheries service said Monday they are waiting for the Corps to release its decision for Cascade Point before they decide whether to elevate their objections to their agency's top administrator, William Hogarth, in Silver Spring, Md.
"We're concerned about the potential for construction and operation (of the dock to harm) the herring stock," said Sue Walker, a biologist with the fisheries service.
The state issued its draft decisions for the Kensington Mine last June and held a 45-day comment period. The fisheries service has recommended denying the permit for the Cascade Point dock three times now, Walker said.
The state's purview over the project includes tideland leases for docks at Cascade Point and Slate Creek Cove, construction and use of an access road, fish habitat permits and water right authorizations.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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