JUNEAU - The U.S. Forest Service will prepare an environmental assessment before granting a major permit for the Kensington gold mine.
The non-acid-producing multimetal mine is about 45 miles north-northwest of Juneau, on the north side of Berners Bay. It is operated by Coeur Alaska Inc., which is wholly owned by Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.
The mine submitted a plan of operations for a new tailings disposal site on Comet Beach, facing Lynn Canal, in January. Tailings are the waste left over after metal has been removed from ore.
The new plan replaced one that was opposed by environmentalists and declared invalid by a federal court in 2007.
Juneau district Ranger Pete Griffin originally recommended that the mine would only need a supplemental information report, the least detailed environmental study.
But in comments on the draft report last month, officials with other agencies that still must issue permits for the project said they'd prefer to see an environmental assessment, which requires more study.
The environmental assessment is still much less complex than an environmental impact statement, which takes 12 to 18 months to complete.
Griffin said the Environmental Protection Agency influenced his decision to ratchet up the amount of study required. The agency had questions about water quality, and would also require an environmental assessment for its own permit.
"I'm really hoping that by the end of the summer or early fall, we will have a decision," Griffin said.
The ranger recommended that this environmental assessment be a coordinated process among the permitting agencies, which include the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the EPA and the city of Juneau.