Coeur's dubious environmental record

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Merrill Stanford made several statements about the Kensington Gold Mine in his opinion of July 13.

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First, he asserts that "the water will be clean." My question is whether Merrill has read the Corps of Engineers' Record of Decision. It says that the tailings water "will be toxic" with a pH of 10 to 11, the same level as ammonia, and that even after the tailings have been diluted in the lake the water will need treatment to meet standards. Coeur Alaska's CEO saying the tailings are the same as beach sand doesn't make it so, Merrill.

Merrill also says that the mine is in compliance with the Clean Water Act. My question is whether Merrill has read the act or the plaintiff's court filings. If he has, then he should be familiar with these phrases from the act: "Rivers, lakes and streams are being used to dispose of man's wastes rather than to support man's life and health," and "the use of any river, lake, stream or ocean as a waste treatment system is unacceptable."

Is Merrill aware that no gold mining company has been allowed to dump tailings into a lake since the act was passed? I'm not a lawyer, but I know that the plaintiff's case is not frivolous or a matter for Merrill's laughter. It is serious enough that ultimately this case could end up before the Supreme Court.

Merrill also asserts that the mine will not use "harsh" chemicals such as cyanide, which is his definition of a "clean" mine. But the mine will be processing with other chemicals that are toxic, and these chemicals will be present on site and as residue in the tailings. Merrill's statement about cyanide is interesting because the Pogo Mine in Fairbanks, after saying they would not use cyanide, is now applying for a permit to do just that. Why? Because it's cheaper. Does this mean that Merrill now opposes the Pogo Mine?

Merrill goes on to state that Coeur has a long track record of environmental responsibility. Is it responsible to use a cyanide-heap leaching process and mess it up so that groundwater is polluted? This is what happened recently at a Coeur mine in Nevada. Is it responsible to pollute Johnson Creek with runoff? Or to exceed water quality standards at Sherman Creek? Or have several chemical spills at Kensington already? These things don't bode well for Berners Bay's future.

Mark Rorick

Chairman of the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club


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