WRANGELL - The Alaska Department of Law will intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that challenges the federal approval of a permit for the Kensington Mine.
On Sept. 13, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Sierra Club and the Lynn Canal Conservation filed a complaint in federal court to try to prevent Coeur Alaska from dumping rock waste from the gold mine into a lake north of Juneau.
Gov. Frank Murkowski made the announcement Wednesday to area business and civic leaders gathered in Wrangell for the Southeast Conference annual meeting. Murkowski said he is acting in the best interests of the state to foster resource development.
The governor also insists the permit is legitimate.
"We'll be entering the pleading on the justification on the permit that's been approved by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency," Murkowski said.
"We are disappointed but not surprised," said SEACC staff attorney Buck Lindekugel.
The environmental groups argue that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a discharge permit that improperly applies new regulations under the Clean Water Act.
The lake's population of Dolly Varden char is not expected to survive during the dumping, but the company claims it can restore the lake after the mine closes.
"By joining the defendants in this case, the governor has chosen to put the mining industry ahead of all Alaskans, whose jobs depend on clean water. As permitted, the Kensington Mine clearly violates both the spirit and the letter of the Clean Water Act," Lindekugel said.
The regulations, approved by the Bush administration, allow mining waste to be reclassified as fill material. The lawsuit alleges that that permit skirts a Clean Water Act requirement that such discharges meet a "zero" pollution standard.
The mine is expected to recover 1 million ounces of gold over 10 years and employ about 300 people in the process. According to the Department of Law, it will generate nearly $2 million in mining licensing taxes and an additional $3.5 million in corporate income taxes.
"We think it's in the best interest for Juneau and the job force," Murkowski said.
The governor encouraged legislators and city governments to also intervene in the lawsuit.
Members of the Southeast Conference agreed Wednesday to let their board of directors decide next month whether to support a resolution in favor of the lawsuit's defendants.
Andrew Petty can be reached at email@example.com.