Tailings dump a terrible precedent

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, September 16, 2005

I am appalled by the imminent Kensington Mine industrialization of Berners Bay. This pristine biological and scenic/recreational resource and backyard for Juneau residents is about to suffer a terrible fate involving, among many other industrial insults, the dumping of 4.5 million tons of toxic mine waste into the Slate Creek drainage, specifically into Lower Slate Lake.

In due course, the chemicals used to extract gold from ore will leach from the tailings and flow down to Slate Cove and into the larger Berners Bay. The poisons will continue to spread to fish nurseries and feeding grounds, thus depleting the marvelous array of wildlife that makes Berners Bay such a rich ecosystem.

All this is possible because, by an arbitrary change of Clean Water Act regulations, chemically processed rock is redefined as neutral "fill." This perversion of the rules, in turn, stems from a larger movement to roll back carefully crafted regulatory regimes to the era of the Robber Barons, to the time before "Silent Spring" and the Environmental Protection Act.

The Army Corps of Engineers' issuance of the dumping permit violates both the word and spirit of the law on the books. Yet this is supposed to be a government of laws. Moreover, it is a terrible precedent that takes us back to late 19th century mining law and behavior, when "anything goes" was the standing rule. It will be a signal for the crashing of the gates on all public lands.

William E. Brown


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