Sending a biologist decked out in diving gear to float face down in a stream for three hours counting fish fry doesn't seem like hard-rock mining activity.
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But Coeur Alaska showed off exactly that kind of work Thursday at a mandatory public meeting to discuss the company's 2005 activities to launch the Kensington gold mine.
Coeur Alaska environmental manager Crellin Scott gave a construction and environmental compliance update to a crowd of about 60 who gathered Thursday for the meeting at Centennial Hall.
The mine remains under litigation by environmental groups opposing Coeur Alaska's plan to dump its rock waste into a lake, and mine officials declined to discuss their disposal plans at the meeting.
The mine isn't scheduled to open until 2007.
"It takes a lot of time to get there," Scott explained to the crowd.
Coeur faced some construction problems in 2005, netting a notice of violation from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for allowing dirt to erode into nearby Johnson Creek.
The notice of violation and nearly 10 small petroleum spills were noted in Coeur Alaska's report to the U.S. Forest Service.
"There were a couple of hiccups," said Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin, who attended the meeting. The company fixed the problems, though, Griffin said, adding "for a startup, I think (2005) went pretty well."
Plans for 2006
New Jualin drift - major tunnel for mining gold.
Lower Slate Lake concrete dam - to hold up to 4.5 million tons of tailings.
Ore processing mill - to produce gold concentrate.
Scott said Thursday that Coeur Alaska's biggest challenge in 2005 was preparing the concrete pad for its processing mill, which will sit on a steep slope.
Due to heavy rainfall, "we had a very tough fall last year," Scott said, noting the sediment violations.
Scott showed numerous bucolic photos, however, of the company's environmental technicians performing monitoring in streams near the mine.
"(They) get to see some of this wonderful country," Scott said, of the technicians, noting that the streams criss-crossing the watershed serve as Coeur Alaska's "thermometer" for potential pollution problems.
Juneau business booster Murray Walsh said he thought the meeting was "good" but he said Coeur Alaska should have shown photos from Berners Bay so that residents could see that the mine isn't visible. The mine's dock in Slate Creek Cove and the beginning of the mine access road, on the other hand, are visible from Berners Bay.
"I wish they would have delved more into public (perception) issues rather than regulatory issues," Walsh added.
Others said they wished for more open dialog. Coeur should have opened the meeting up for public questions so residents could have heard each others' queries, said Russell Heath, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of the litigants in the environmental lawsuit against the mine.
Instead, at the meeting's conclusion, Scott invited people to address their questions to numerous individual Coeur employees in attendance.
Heath said he also was displeased at Coeur's advertisement of the meeting. Coeur sent an e-mail invitation to Juneau Chamber of Commerce members and placed a small ad in the Juneau Empire's classified announcements section on Wednesday.
"There was virtually no public notice," Heath complained.
The U.S. Forest Service required Coeur Alaska to hold Thursday's public meeting as an annual requirement, listed in the Kensington Mine's plan of operations. The company also has submitted a 2005 performance report, a 16-page document with lengthy attachments describing monitoring projects, to the Forest Service on May 25.
The 2005 Plan of Operations Annual Report will be posted soon at www.dnr.state.ak.us/mlw/mining/largemine/kensington/index.htm, Scott said.