Court lifts injunction on Kensington permits

Next gatekeeper will decide 'in the most expedient manner legally permissible'

Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2009

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday lifted its injunction on construction at the Kensington gold mine, bringing the mine one step closer to getting back into business since it was halted in mid-2006.

The court's action throws the ball to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will decide whether and how to reinstate Coeur Alaska Inc.'s permit. It would need some modifications, such as a new construction timeline.

Tom Findtner, public affairs chief for the Corps' Alaska District, wrote in an e-mail that the agency would decide "in the most expedient manner legally permissible."

Coeur previously estimated Kensington would start producing gold in mid-2010 - if the court hurried.

The company told the court on June 30 that because Alaska's construction season is so short, it stood to lose millions of dollars and delay the production start until 2011 if the court waited past July 20 to lift its injunction.

The appeals court first stopped work at the mine in August 2006, when environmentalists who had lost a bid in district court to stop the mine from dumping its ground-up waste rock in Lower Slate Lake appealed. In mid-2007, the court agreed with environmentalists that the mine's plan for waste rock disposal violated the Clean Water Act, and the mine stayed on hold.

Coeur and the state of Alaska appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the mine on June 22 this year and sent the case back to the lower court to lift the injunction.

The environmentalists were the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club.

The Kensington gold mine is 45 miles northwest of Juneau, on the north side of Berners Bay. Coeur's parent company, Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp., estimates the mine will need about 200 full-time workers to produce about 125,000 ounces of gold a year over the next decade.

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



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