Will mine supporters and tailings opponents reconcile?

Environmentalists: We won't fight the Kensington ruling

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009

You lost. Let it go.

That's the message Juneau's legislators sent Wednesday to the environmentalists who fought mining company Coeur Alaska Inc. to the U.S. Supreme Court. The response?

OK, but this ruling isn't just about the Kensington mine.

Local environmental groups lost their bid to keep Coeur from turning Lower Slate Lake into a depository for 4.5 million pounds of ground-up waste rock in Monday's court decision.

As the ruling came down, the defeated Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club vowed to keep fighting. They're now hoping Congress or the Obama administration will change the Bush administration's federal rule allowing mine waste to be considered fill. The rule was the basis for the high court's decision.

Republican Juneau Rep. Cathy Muñoz, an ardent supporter of the mine, said she worried after hearing Earthjustice lawyer Tom Waldo on the radio Monday that the environmentalists he represents might also try to delay the courts' reinstatement of Coeur's permits.

Muñoz explained her worry. The Supreme Court tossed the case back to the district court to reinstate the mine's permits. Environmentalists could ask the high court to reconsider the case, though such motions are hardly ever granted. Nonetheless, after such a motion the district court would have to wait until the Supreme Court decided on it - which could be after the court's summer recess and into October, Muñoz said.

A June 24 letter from Muñoz, and Rep. Beth Kerttula and Sen. Dennis Egan, both Democrats of Juneau, tells Waldo that the Legislature supports Kensington, the delegation supports Kensington, and the delegation is concerned about "your client's statements that an attempt may be made to nullify or delay the implementation of Court's ruling."

Not an issue, said the environmentalists.

"We have no intent to file a petition for rehearing," Waldo said.

As for the other approaches, even if SEACC were willing to let the issue go, the issue wouldn't go away, according to Rob Cadmus of SEACC.

"This is not just local anymore," he said.

Neither side apparently can answer whether a rule change from Congress or the Obama Administration would apply to the Kensington, rather than just to future mines like the Kensington.

"I would hope that they would be grandfathered in, but there's not real clarity on that," said Muñoz.

Thursday, the Juneau Assembly also put out a statement with a message of reconciliation similar to that of the legislative delegation.

Coeur Alaska is a subsidiary of Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. The parent company's spokesman said this week Coeur is pushing for Kensington to start producing gold by the second half of 2010. Kensington is expected to produce 125,000 ounces of gold a year and employ 200 well paid, full-time workers once in operation.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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