Mine builder homes in on erosion glitch

Coeur officials: Site looks good now

Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2005

While two of its major permits are suspended and pressure mounts from Alaska regulators to stop polluting a creek, the Kensington Mine has a new mission: erosion control.

"Virtually everybody has been dedicated," said Luke Russell, vice president for environmental services for Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp., which owns the Kensington project.

At this stage, the only work occurring at the Kensington construction site is related to fixing its erosion problem, Russell said.

The company began building the mine in early July but was cited by state regulators on Nov. 10 for polluting Johnson Creek with sediment draining off the mine access road and at the mine's future mill site. Last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended two major wetland fill permits at the mine and its proposed dock at Cascade Point. Those permits are being challenged in a federal lawsuit, which is also now on hold.

The Corps of Engineers' decision to suspend the permits for internal review halted all work in wetlands except for pollution prevention.

"We've put a full-court press on erosion control," Russell said Monday afternoon.

The company hired an environmental consulting firm to advise it on erosion control for high-precipitation areas. Mine workers also have built additional structures - such as ponds and diversion ditches - to keep sediment from the Kensington construction site from entering nearby Johnson Creek, he said.

"The site looks good now," Russell said.

Coeur should have been prepared to deal with heavy rainfall, countered Buck Lindekugel, a staff attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which is suing to block the two Corps of Engineers permits.

"After all of the studies they did, they didn't know that it rained in November in Berners Bay?" Lindekugel said.

Sediment pollution damages salmon habitat, Lindekugel said. "We encourage them to get on the ball and get these things resolved."

State regulators from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation plan to inspect the mine for compliance with water-quality rules this week or next.

The company had a deadline of Nov. 25 to comply with the pollution rule, but so far, the state hasn't determined whether the mine has achieved compliance.

Some test results submitted to the state since it issued its Nov. 10 violation notice have been clean but a few show the mine exceeded the state's pollution standard for suspended sediments, regulators said.

A top regulator said she is pleased with the company's progress since Nov. 10.

"They've been very responsive," said Lynn Kent, DEC's director of water.

Kent said Monday the state will make an announcement about Coeur's compliance after it inspects the mine again.

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

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