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Residents fear Coeur case could affect Bristol Bay

Trustees for Alaska say win for Kensington operator may set precedent for Pebble Mine

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A win for Kensington mine operator Coeur Alaska Inc. in the U.S. Supreme Court could allow Pebble Mine tailings to harm Bristol Bay, according to attorneys for a group of Bristol Bay Alaska Natives, fishermen and other residents.

Trustees for Alaska filed an amicus brief siding with environmental groups in the case. If Pebble gets the same kind of permit Coeur wants for Kensington, "the risks posed to the unique fish and wildlife resources of Bristol Bay, and all those who depend on them, would be substantial," the brief says.

Amicus briefs are filed by those who are not party to the litigation but believe the court's decision will affect them.

The case will be argued Jan. 12, and final briefs are due Dec. 7. Mine operator Coeur Alaska Inc. and the state of Alaska are pitted against the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club.

Coeur wants to dump Kensington tailings into Lower Slate Lake. The U.S. Corps of Engineers gave it a permit to do so, but environmental groups say dumping tailings into U.S. waters is illegal under the Clean Water Act.

Tailings are the ground-up waste rock remaining after metals are removed from ore. The Kensington gold mine is 45 miles north-northwest of Juneau, on the north side of Berners Bay.

The environmental groups sued and won last May, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the mine's Slate Lake permit from the Corps. In January, the mine and the state of Alaska appealed to the Supreme Court.

In their petition to the court, state attorneys argued that "important economic development projects would be blocked" if the 9th Circuit decision stands. Mines that aren't blocked could become "more environmentally harmful," they said.

Amicus briefs from mining associations agreed.

But the state declined to comment specifically on Pebble, a proposed gold-copper-molybdenum mine in southwestern Alaska that might pour millions into state coffers from royalties if developed.

"It would be inappropriate for us to speculate on how a particular outcome in the Kensington appeal might or might not affect any future permitting at the Pebble Project," said state attorney Cam Leonard in an e-mail Monday.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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