Coeur, environmental groups meet about mine tailings

Details of discussions being kept confidential

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007

Representatives of three conservation groups met with the owners of the Kensington Mine and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho throughout the day on Tuesday to discuss the mine's tailings disposal, but the substance of the talks were kept confidential by all parties.

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The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Juneau chapter of the Sierra Club met with Coeur Alaska and Anchorage attorney Julian Mason, whom Botelho referred to as a facilitator.

Botelho issued a short statement saying the groups met "to seek a resolution to tailings disposal at the Kensington Mine so that the mine can move into its production phase.

"The participants appreciate the challenges ahead but have pledged their good faith to achieve a desirable outcome," he said.

They plan to meet again later this month.

The parties are waiting to learn whether the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will rehear a case brought by the conservation groups involving the mine's tailings disposal. The court ruled in May that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' permit to allow the tailings to be put in Lower Slate Lake violated the Clean Water Act. The Corps appealed that decision and asked for a review by the full court.

The court has asked SEACC to respond to Coeur's appeal, a move it usually does not take until after they agree to rehear a case.

SEACC attorney Buck Lindekugel said on Monday that allowing the plan to go through would have set a new precedent for mines throughout the country, including the Pebble Mine, near Iliamna in Southwest Alaska. It would have been the first time since Congress passed the Clean Water Act that a mine would have been allowed to dump pollutants into U.S. waters.

In the meantime, the Chamber of Commerce hopes for a quick resolution to the issue, although Coeur has said the mine's operations are now delayed at least a year.

"What these people are trained to do is stall. It's a vicious cycle," said Cathie Roemmich, the chamber's chief executive officer.

"We just all have to hope that (the 9th Circuit decision) will be overturned. The fear is that SEACC, Lynn Canal Conservation and Sierra Club will then file another suit. That's what the fear is, that they will never stop filing suit," Roemmich said.

Lindekugel said all SEACC wants is for the mine and permitting agencies to follow the law.

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