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Hecla Greens Creek Mining Corp., or HGCMC, held a public information session Thursday on its proposed tailing area expansion.
HGCMC engineer Al Czarnowsky said the current tailing space covers about 50 acres. This project would expand on that by 60 acres with an additional 140 acres for supporting infrastructure, such as access roads, stockpile reclamation materials, a new water treatment plant, an upgraded treated water discharge line and quarry sites.
The additional tailing space accommodates an additional 15 to 20 million tons of tailings and waste rock.
"Through our exploration program we were able to expand our resource, which allows us to continue mining. Because we're able to continue mining we need more space for our tailings facility," said Czarnowsky.
Czarnowsky said this new space would just be an extension to what already exists. It would not entail production or milling increases.
He explained there is currently enough room for the Greens Creek Mine to run for another four years. This expansion is to help give the capacity to keep the mine going for another 30.
The project will be fully funded by HGCMC if approved.
Sarah Samuelson, mineral programs manager for the Tongass area of the U.S. Forest Service, said the meeting was to solicit comments from the public on the proposal.
"Once we get comments, we'll use those to identify key issues. From those issues we'll start developing various alternatives which will be looked at for our environmental analysis," she said.
She said the Forest Service acts as the land manager, as the mine is almost entirely on Forest Service land. She said because it's on federal land, it must complete an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"Basically we have to approve whatever they do out there or not," she said.
Tetras Tech is developing that EIS.
The NEPA process involves several steps that involve a published notice of intent for the EIS, public scoping, a draft EIS, public comment periods on the draft and then a final draft.
Tetra Tech project manager Gene Weglinski said this meeting is part of the scoping stage.
"It asks the public for input of their concerns about the project. We provide information about the project and figures, and people can voice their concerns," he said. He said concerns brought up by the public help bring focus points for the report.
Weglinski said many factors such as effects on air quality, water quality and wildlife are evaluated for the EIS.
"This process is to determine what the effects would be if they were to move forward with this project," he said.
He said the draft should be ready in summer or fall, 2011. Samuelson said the Forest Service hopes to make a decision on the project by spring 2012. Czarnowsky said he hopes construction will begin in 2012.
Czarnowsky said the whole project would take more than 30 years to complete in its entirety. He said it will be done in sequences to spread the costs and keep production going.
This information session was a mandatory step in that approval.
HGCMC environmental manager Jennifer Saran said the company continuously refines the tailing facility, which has been improved by the Forest Service, the state and Juneau, to constantly meet environmental standards as they change.
The evening drew few attendees. Czarnowsky said this is expected as the mine is already something most of the community knows about. He said if it was a new company opening, the turnout would probably have been greater.
The Greens Creek Mine started operations in 1989. It produces silver, zinc, lead and some gold.