Work on the Greens Creek Mining Co.'s tailing expansion could begin in January, four to eight months ahead of schedule, because of a mining ordinance the Juneau Assembly passed Monday night.
The ordinance allows summary approval of changes to existing permits for rural mines, and its passage coincided with the last day of the public comment period on Greens Creek's draft environmental impact statement.
"It really takes advantage of the state and federal environmental review process and minimizes impact on the city staff of having to do the same thing over again," said Bill Oelklaus, Greens Creek environmental manager.
Greens Creek mines silver, zinc, gold and lead on Admiralty Island, but within city boundaries. The mine's proposal would expand the tailings facility from 29 acres to 61.3 acres and would keep it running for another 25 years.
The Assembly adopted the ordinance unanimously.
Two citizens testified against the ordinance, citing concerns that rural mines should not be treated differently from urban mines.
"A mine that is beyond the road system is going to create just as many infrastructural impacts or maybe more on the community," said Bruce Baker of Lynn Canal Conservation.
Assembly member Marc Wheeler called the ordinance a "compromise."
"By moving forward with this, we do show our support for the mining industry in Juneau and for reasonable streamlining of regulations," Wheeler said.
Oelklaus said the mine should have its summary approval application in to the city by July. The mine also awaits finalization of its EIS and a Forest Service record of decision, and must obtain a solid waste management permit before any expansion can start, Oelklaus said.
The ordinance is one of two mining ordinances moving through the Assembly. The second, more controversial one would make rural mines that undergo state or federal environmental review allowable uses, barring the city from imposing permitting conditions that are covered by state or federal permits.
The Assembly is set to consider that ordinance June 16.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.