My Turn: Reopening Kensington mine would adversely affect Berners Bay

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2004

Recently, Kensington Mine boosters and Coeur Alaska have been circulating information in support of the project. In Fridays Juneau Empire, the My Turn of Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Greg OClaray was yet another such presentation. In his enthusiasm for the project, he, as others have, has chosen to ignore facts central to the debate of whether the impacts to Berners Bay are justified.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council has watch-dogged the Kensington project since 1989 and believes the critical question is the effect of this huge project on Berners Bay.

Has Coeur been a responsible developer?

In 1996, the U.S. government sued Coeur dAlene Mines Corp. and several other mining companies for dumping mine wastes into the Coeur dAlene River Basin in northern Idaho. The basin is now a Superfund site and one of the largest contaminated areas the United States has ever sought to restore. The cleanup is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. How do we know Alaskans wont be stuck footing the bill for cleanup of Berners Bay if Coeur declares bankruptcy, as it almost did in 2002?

Will Coeur employ 500 Alaskans?

It looks like 80 percent of mine workers will be hired from the Lower 48. Coeurs Rick Richins told the Chilkat Valley News in July that 95 percent of the work force would be Southeast Alaskans; however, the U.S. Forest Services draft environmental impact statement explains that 80 percent of the operation workers would in-migrate, while 20 percent of the mine work force would be drawn from the local CBJ labor force. The agency also states that most mine workers would not be local, with many coming from outside Alaska. Three hundred of the jobs Mr. OClaray envisions are construction jobs, lasting for 18 months only good wages for sure, job security for less than two years. Another 200 jobs are for 10 years, maybe 15, if the volatile price of gold holds.

Will Berners Bay be industrialized?

Coeur promises they have no plans to do so, but you judge. Plans call for 1) an industrial marine terminal for ore barges and fuel handling at Slate Creek Cove in the northwest corner of the Bay; 2) a 220-foot dock, protected by a 500-foot breakwater at Cascade Point near Echo Cove; 3) ore barges, ferries transporting mine workers and mining supplies, fuel barges, sightseeing boats, commercial fishing boats crossing the bay; and 4) the inevitable pollution from oil and fuel spills small and large threatens the health of our fisheries.

Is Coeurs design for the project really smaller, cleaner, and better?

Coeur has claimed that its current plan is smaller. The original plan for the mine kept all facilities confined to a small area on the west side of Lions Head Mountain on the Lynn Canal side. The development totally stayed out of Berners Bay. The new plan proposes to scatter these facilities from this already disturbed area into the bay from Slate Creek Cove to Cascade Point. This new plan isnt smaller, its sprawling. Two marine terminals with all the resulting pollution that inevitably occurs in harbors are not cleaner. The only thing better about this current design for the mine is improvement in Coeurs profits, while Juneau bears the costs for years to come.

The mine project is a huge industrial complex that puts at risk the rich resources of Berners Bay. It is only fair and appropriate for the project to go through a rigorous review and permitting process by state and federal agencies that citizens entrust with protection of public resources. SEACC encourages all interested Juneau and Haines residents to attend the public hearings on Monday and Tuesday. We join with Commissioner OClaray to encourage a fair and balanced discussion.

In conclusion, SEACC believes it is Coeurs responsibility to design, construct and operate a mine that does not risk the quality of Berners Bays water, air, and other resources that Juneau and upper Lynn Canal communities depend upon for subsistence, recreational, and commercial activities. At this point in the Kensington project, we do not believe Coeur has met that obligation.

Kat Hall is the mining and water quality organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

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