The Juneau Assembly decided Monday that, if necessary, it will file a court brief supporting the Kensington Mine, but it will not intervene in a lawsuit intending to stop mine operators from dumping rock waste into a nearby lake.
Assembly members went behind closed doors in an executive session Monday night to debate the level of city involvement in the lawsuit. After they returned to an open session, they unanimously approved a resolution stating their position.
The three environmental groups that filed the suit argue that a permit allowing mine operator Coeur Alaska to dump rock tailings into Lower Slate Lake violates the Clean Water Act. The mine is near Berners Bay, about 45 miles northwest of Juneau.
The Murkowski administration and Coeur have requested to be parties in the lawsuit, siding with the defendant, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the permit.
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Sierra Club and Haines-based Lynn Conservation Council filed the lawsuit last month in a Juneau court.
The Assembly agreed that, if recommended by the city attorney, it would send an amicus brief, or a letter of support, that the judge must take into consideration when deciding the outcome of the case.
The city's other option was to intervene, with the city putting an attorney on the case and Juneau becoming a party in the lawsuit.
Mayor Bruce Botelho said one reason the Assembly decided not to intervene is that it would require a key staff member, such as the city attorney or the city manager, to work on the case full-time.
"We're simply not in a position to do that," Botelho said.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Alaska Department of Law attorneys, as well as legal muscle from Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp., are already assigned to the case.
After the city was pressured by the Southeast Conference and a group of civic and business leaders to intervene in the lawsuit, the Assembly voted to host a round of mediation talks before it took further action.
But the mediation failed on Thursday, and SEACC officials said they will continue to pursue the lawsuit. Coeur has stated that in the meantime it will continue to develop the mine.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org