Would-be miners are anxious to begin work

Coeur Alaska urges court to hurry, lift injunction by July 20

Posted: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Coeur Alaska Inc. posted ads for four jobs Monday. But many more in Southeast Alaska, including former employees who were laid off, are hoping for a chance to work there.

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David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire

"I'm ready to go back to work now," said Cynthia Frank of Angoon, who did housekeeping at the Kensington gold mine for Coeur contractor ESS Support Services until she was laid off last October. "I've had all the rest I can get."

The mine, 45 miles northwest of Juneau, halted work in mid-2007 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with environmentalists that the mine's plan to dump ground-up waste rock in a lake violated the federal Clean Water Act. Coeur appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court on June 22 sided with Coeur and reversed the appeals court's ruling.

So the gold mine is a go. But Kensington's revival schedule is not yet clear.

First, the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals must lift its injunction, which halted the mine's construction in mid-2006. Then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must modify Coeur's old permit to reflect, among other things, a new construction timeline. And Coeur itself is figuring out now how it will pay for the next stage of development, according to the company.

Coeur Alaska urged the court on June 30 to hurry. If the court doesn't lift the injunction by July 20, "Coeur estimates an additional 6-to-10-month delay in commencing gold production will result," the mine company said in its filing.

That would push gold production from mid-2010, the current estimate, to somewhere between January 2011 and April 2011.

Millions of dollars are at stake, said K. Leon Hardy of Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp., the Idaho-based parent company, in the court filing.

The injunction-related delay cost Coeur about $60 million so far, and a 6-to-10-month delay would cost another $8.7 million to $14.7 million in holding costs. Delay in revenues from gold would cost Coeur another $18.2 million to $25.7 million, Hardy's statement said.

Coeur d'Alene has said Coeur Alaska will hire nearly 300 people in the next year to finish building Kensington, and about 200 regular workers once it is in production.

Would-be workers are anxious for the mine to get started.

Within an hour of the Supreme Court's decision, phone calls about jobs started coming to Randy Wanamaker. Wanamaker runs BBC Human Resource Development Corp., a joint venture designed to help Alaska Natives and Alaska residents get mining jobs. He's gotten 50 to 60 more calls since then from all over Southeast and the rest of the country, he said.

Angoon resident Phil Walker said Oct. 2, 2008, was the day his life changed. The underground miner who also learned water and wastewater treatment while at Kensington, was laid off.

He filled out application after application - Greens Creek, Red Dog and Pogo. He trained for four weeks in Palmer for oil field work, only to find out no one was hiring.

In the meantime, he returned to the subsistence lifestyle of his grandfathers to provide for his family. Getting out on a boat took his mind off disappointment. But he still fervently hopes to go back to work at Coeur.

"I prefer working in the mine," he said.

His wife, Lenora Walker, said her son and son-in-law were also laid off from Coeur. Though the layoffs posed hard challenges for her family this year, she tries to look on the bright side.

"We've always really enjoyed the subsistence lifestyle - clams, cockles, berries, fish, deer. We just have more time for it now," said his wife, "and less money."

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

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