Contesting the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruling on mine tailings disposal will only further delay gold production at Kensington Mine in Berners Bay, environmentalists told the Juneau Assembly on Monday night.
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Buck Lindekugel, conservation director and staff attorney for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said Coeur Alaska lacks lawful means of handling the tailings that will result from operation of the mine.
SEACC believes Coeur has two options to move the project forward, Lindekugel said. It can continue to pursue its legal options with the hopes of having the ruling overturned, or Coeur can work with environmentalists to design and construct a legal tailings facility, he said.
"What option Coeur chooses will determine how much delay occurs," Lindekugel said.
Coeur representatives did not address the Assembly.
Last week, Coeur petitioned the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals to reconsider a decision issued by the three-judge panel in May that found the company's proposal to dump its mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake violated the Clean Water Act.
Pursuing a rehearing by the full court of 12 judges or seeking a review by the U.S. Supreme Court would keep the facility from operating for as much as two years, Lindekugel said.
"If Coeur lost its appeal, it would be back where it is today - facing the need to design, permit, and construct a legal dry stack tailings facility," he said.
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Lindekugel said the amount of the delay would be reduced if Coeur works with SEACC and uses sites reviewed in the 2004 supplemental environmental review that were approved by federal and state agencies in 1998.
Lindekugel said he also wanted to clear up the misconception that SEACC and the environmentalists can withdraw the lawsuit so the mine can begin operation.
"Many people seem to share the mistaken belief that SEACC can still drop or withdraw from this lawsuit," he said. "This is not true. The fate of this case is outside of our hands. The court has ruled that Coeur's tailings facility is illegal."
SEACC is willing to work with Coeur and the permitting agencies on a mutually acceptable dry stack tailings facility and temporary storage options for the tailings until a permanent facility could be permitted, Lindekugel said.
"These temporary storage options would allow the mine to begin production while the details of the permanent facility are worked out," he said.
Mark Rorick of the Sierra Club Alaska Chapter said he thinks the mine is going to move forward and eventually begin production, but said it must do so in a legal and environmentally sound way.
"The Sierra Club will oppose any attempt to use Lower Slate Lake as a tailings disposal site," he said.
Assembly member Merrill Sanford said there are 15 to 20 old mine sites in the area that produced mine waste but did not kill the fish and wildlife in Berners Bay like the environmentalists claim would happen with the Lower Slate Lake tailings proposal.
"The old mines that were there didn't do that, with no regulations, compared to the regulations that you have to date," he said.
Lindekugel said Kensington Mine would produce more tailings than the older mines.
Lindekugel said SEACC would not oppose the Kensington Mine project if Coeur pursues a dry stack tailings plan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not issued a permit authorizing the discharge of tailings from any mine into a lake, river or stream since the Environmental Protection Agency adopted the standards in 1982, he said.
"What we are concerned about is a precedent being set," Lindekugel said.
SEACC will continue fighting for clean water and continue to oppose any plans to dump tailings in waterways, he said.
"Today, clean water is the heart and soul of our fishing, tourism, and recreation industries," Lindekugel said. "In a world where clean water is becoming increasingly scarce, all of us share the responsibility that any development occurs in a manner designed to safeguard these resources."
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