Kensington work force to be cut in half

Coeur Alaska says it will lay off 41 of 82 workers at the mine

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2008

Alaska Native leaders who bargained with Coeur Alaska Inc. for local and Native hire at the Kensington Mine are now scrambling to help laid-off workers find jobs.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File

Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. spokesman Tony Ebersole said 41 of 82 people would be laid off.

He said he didn't know how many of those being laid off were originally Alaska or Southeast residents. Calls to Coeur Alaska have been forwarded to the parent company for several months.

Coeur Alaska runs the Kensington gold mine, 45 miles north-northwest of Juneau.

Ebersole said it was a "business decision" and Coeur was still committed to hiring more people and starting production in late 2009 or early 2010.

The company has said it will hire more than 200 people once mining begins. For the last year and a half, while working on permits for the operations plan, Coeur has been doing development and exploration with a smaller work force.

Mine general manager Tom Henderson on Thursday e-mailed community supporters telling them of the cuts.

"As difficult as this decision is, it is important to emphasize our long-term commitment to Juneau and its economy; to moving Kensington toward production; and to ultimately providing long-term, high-paying jobs into the area," Henderson wrote.

Randy Wanamaker, BBC Human Resources Development Corp. director and deputy Juneau mayor, said most workers would likely leave Juneau or the region to find jobs.

"Greens Creek can only take so many," he said. Juneau's other mine, on Admiralty Island, is owned by Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co.

Wanamaker offered BBC offices as a job-seeking launch pad and was calling other employers on behalf of the laid-off workers.

"These layoffs will result in socioeconomic harm to our tribal citizens as well as to many citizens of Juneau and Southeast Alaska," said Bill Martin, president of Tlingit and Haida Central Council, who offered training to the workers. "Our heart goes out to these people and their families."

Coeur is doing exit interviews and job counseling for the workers, Ebersole said.

Word of the layoffs came a week after Coeur canceled the permit-in-progress for the mine operations, which was to be released for public comment on Wednesday.

That plan - to deposit tailings in a paste form along Lynn Canal - was endorsed by environmental groups that previously fought the mine.

The plan Coeur is pursuing now requires the company to win a case against the conservationists in the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

"Moving forward with the paste tailings plan, and getting the mine up and running quickly and in an environmentally sound way, will save these jobs," said Rob Cadmus of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of the environmental groups.

Wanamaker and Martin joined Coeur in blaming layoffs on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's requirements in the environmental review of the permit process.

The agency's September comments on the review asked for a "new alternative" of how to deal with the tailings from the mine that would cause "potentially months of delay," according to the company's Sept. 23 explanation.

But since then, EPA has pushed back against the company's claims.

EPA contacted Coeur before the company pulled out to clarify its position, according to an e-mail sent on Sept. 18.

"We would like to have a call with everyone sooner rather than later, since it is our impression that there may be some misinterpretations of our comments," wrote EPA permitter Hanh Shaw. "I would like to clarify up front that EPA is not pushing for new schedule or a new alternative."

EPA officials said the company did not respond to the e-mail.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or

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