State cites mine for creek erosion

Citizen complaints spurred investigation into effects of building at Kensington site

Posted: Friday, November 11, 2005

Department of Environmental Conservation

  In the making: Construction continues at the camp and access road for the Kensington Mine, about 45 miles north of Juneau. Regulators are citing mine operator Coeur Alaska for water-quality violations caused by construction. courtesy of Alaska

The Kensington Mine was cited by state regulators Thursday for water-quality violations caused by erosion and runoff at its construction site.

The mine, under development by Coeur Alaska, has until Nov. 25 to come into compliance with the law. If it doesn't, the mine could face civil penalties, or if criminally negligent, up to $200,000 in fines, state officials said Thursday.

The violation notice stems from a Nov. 3 inspection that was prompted by complaints from the public and a Department of Natural Resources employee who noticed sediment in a creek that runs next to the mine's construction area.

"We inspected a number of sites, and it was apparent that there were problems at two sites where sediment from construction activity was reaching nearby Johnson Creek," said Lynn Kent, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's director of water, in a written statement Thursday.

The company's permit dictates that the company must stop any activities causing water-quality violations.

Kent and other state regulators said they contacted Coeur Alaska officials in Juneau Thursday to see if they were resolving the violations.

"We are committed to compliance," said Luke Russell, vice president for environmental services for Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mine Corp., which owns the mine.

Russell said he didn't know whether violations were still occurring this week but he was attempting to contact the local staff. The problems have occurred during "very wet periods," he said.

The activity of heavy trucks at the mine construction site is churning gravel into a muddy cocktail of fine particles - basically glacial flour - that is resisting the usual erosion control methods, state regulators said this week.

The problems are most apparent at the mine's access road, which crosses Johnson Creek a couple of times, and at the construction site for the Kensington Mine's ore processing mill, situated just above the creek, state regulators with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources said this week.

Test results from water samples taken by the Department of Environmental Conservation on Nov. 3 showed turbidity results that in two spots were respectively 720 and 1,600 times higher than the water-quality standard for turbidity, according to the violation notice.

Coeur Alaska will pursue more "robust" methods to keep the material from escaping into waterways, Russell said.

Critics of the mine said the violations are evidence that Coeur Alaska is not living up to its environmental commitments to Juneau.

"What happens on the ground is never as good as what's on paper. ... It really shows the need for substantial state oversight," said Kat Hall, mining coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Russell said the company is going to work with the state on getting regulator's ideas on how to improve its erosion-prevention measures.

Kent said her staff will monitor the mine's corrective measures.

"Significant" erosion and sediment control measures are necessary in Southeast Alaska because of its heavy rainfall, Kent said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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