The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned an Alaska court's decision and prohibited Kensington gold mine from dumping tailings into Lower Slate Lake north of Juneau.
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The ruling had been expected since March, when the San Francisco court announced its intention to side with environmental groups that opposed the dumping plan.
"The court recognized how important clean water is for Alaska," said Buck Lindekugel, conservation director for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of the three original plaintiffs.
"The Kensington mine tailings disposal plan was illegal and violated the Clean Water Act."
The ruling overturns a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit issued to Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. in 2005.
Coeur spokesman Tony Ebersole said he was not surprised.
"This is how the court of appeals indicated it was going to rule," he said. "From our perspective this is really not new news."
Coeur said in a press release Tuesday the "company is continuing to review its options, including possible appeals to a 15-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States."
Lindekugel said SEACC is prepared to take the legal battle to the nation's highest court if Coeur decides to pursue that option.
"We're going to continue to fight for clean water," he said. "They could drag this on, but we think the message is really clear from the courts."
The permits would have allowed 210,000 gallons of mine tailings a day to be dumped into Lower Slate Lake. Nearly 4.5 million tons of waste would have accumulated over the 10- to 15-year expected life of the mine.
The tailings would include concentrations of potentially hazardous materials such as aluminum, copper, lead and mercury and would kill off all fish and nearly all aquatic life in the lake, according to the decision.
A dangerous precedent would have been set if Coeur had been allowed to use the lake as a dump, Lindekugel said.
"This would have been the first mine in a generation that would have been able to dump its mining waste into a lake or a stream in the entire United States," he said.
According to a Coeur report, in the first quarter of 2007 capital expenditures at Kensington totaled $24.9 million. With the exception of the tailings facility, the company expects to have finished building surface facilities by September.
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.