A $5 million dock proposed by a local Native corporation became a casualty of this week's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Kensington Gold Mine.
The ruling said Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.'s plan to dump tailings into Lower Slate Lake violated the Clean Water Act. It also effectively halted construction of a Goldbelt dock at Cascade Point, about 45 miles northwest of Juneau.
"It's a big concern to us, because we have funds invested in this effort so far," Bob Martin, Goldbelt's vice president of operations, said Thursday.
Martin did not give a specific figure of how much money Goldbelt had invested in the project, but he said it was a "considerable" amount.
Nearly 20 percent of the breakwater had been completed prior to a temporary break in construction due to the annual hooligan run in Berners Bay, Martin said. Fabrication of pieces of the dock in Seattle is nearly complete, he said.
"There wouldn't be any place to put them until dredging and the pilings are installed, but we're not sure what is going to happen," Martin said.
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Goldbelt's permit for the dock was linked with Kensington's tailings permit, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revised Record of Decision.
"Without Kensington mine, the Cascade Point facility would not be constructed in the foreseeable future," it said.
Buck Lindekugel, conservation director for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of three plaintiffs in the case, said they specifically asked the court to consider the Cascade Point dock because it could hurt Berners Bay.
"If they have to step back and take another look at tailingsdisposal options, we also want them to take another look at the transportation plan," he said.
Of particular concern is the proposed dock's proximity to important herring spawning grounds, Lindekugel said.
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"Herring are an integral part of sea life in Berners Bay," he said. "It's all part of the web of life there in Berners Bay. We've always been concerned about the location of this dock and the impact on those resources."
Goldbelt has had difficulty with SEACC for nearly three decades, since it began selecting land near Berners Bay in conjunction with the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Martin said.
"They objected very strongly to us selecting land in Echo Cove and West Douglas," he said. "We feel like we've had to battle to keep the land that we've got. We feel like we had to battle a lot to get the land in the first place."
The conflict over the Cascade Point dock adversely affects Goldbelt's nearly 3,300 shareholders who receive dividends from the Native corporation's earnings, Martin said.
"The waters are state lands, state territory, but if they are blocking attempts to develop even a small portion of our lands, that affects thousands of shareholders," he said.
Protection of Berners Bay and its resources is more important than Goldbelt dividends, Lindekugel said.
"The dock is in Berners Bay and we all own Berners Bay," he said. "Berners Bay belongs to everyone."
Goldbelt does not think the decision on mine tailings should affect the dock, Martin said.
"What they're saying is we are so closely tied that we can't be separated, but we believe we have a dual-use permit that would work for tourism," he said.
Goldbelt, which had agreed with Kensington to transport workers to the gold mine, believes the dock could be used for tourism when it's not being used by the mine, Martin said.
Tourism was not discussed when the permits were first issued, Lindekugel said.
"They told the court that this dock was for the sole purpose of providing mine transportation," he said. "That argument was relied upon by the court."
The future of the Cascade Point dock and Kensington Gold Mine are uncertain. The appeals ruling referred the case back to district court.
"We have to figure out what options we have. It actually depends on what Coeur is going to do," Martin said. "We've certainly been damaged. The extend of the damage we haven't figured out yet."
"It is our view that the ball is in Coeur Alaska's court," Lindekugel said. "It is their responsibility to come up with a legal mine plan that protects our water and protects Berners Bay."