Coeur Alaska is expected to apply for permits for a new paste tailings plan for the Kensington gold mine in the next few weeks, according to Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho.
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The mayor, Coeur Alaska and three conservation groups met with the U.S. Forest Service and the state last week to give them an overview of the new plan to dispose of processed rock from the mine in a paste form near Comet Beach.
The Comet site is a much better location for storing tailings than Lower Slate Lake, said Rob Cadmus, mine coordinator at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. The group, along with the Juneau Sierra Club and Lynn Canal Conservation, successfully challenged the previous plan in federal court on grounds it violated the Clean Water Act.
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"The environmental concerns of a paste facility we feel are pretty similar to a dry stack tailings facility, so we feel it is pretty promising, and definitely warrants agency review," Cadmus said. This is SEACC's first public comments on the plan.
"SEACC recognizes there's going to be a mine in Berners Bay and we feel you can have jobs and clean water but it's got to be done right," Cadmus said. "This is the first step for finding a solution at Kensington that would protect the environment and move things forward."
Coeur Alaska spokesman Tony Ebersole could not be reached late Monday.
The company has identified 1.3 million ounces of gold reserves at the site, plus additional deposits that could bring that total up to 2 million ounces. About 45 miles northwest of downtown, the mine cannot begin operations until it has a permit for storing tailings.
The new plan will require several new permits from various state and federal agencies.
The Forest Service is the lead federal agency and will coordinate the public hearing process, Botelho said.
"We asked to share with (the Forest Service where the parties stood on the plan) and alert them that we suspected that there would be an application submitted in the next several weeks," Botelho said.
Comet Beach is on the other side of a mountain where Coeur built a $200 million mill. Kensington representatives have said in the past that storing tailings at the beach would be too expensive and logistically difficult.
Under a past proposal by the mine, all the mine's facilities, including the mill and a dry stack for tailings, would have been at Comet Beach.
A paste disposal method might make the project more economically feasible than dry stacking because it would produce less waste water that would need treating, according to Tom Crafford, the large mine permitting manager at the Department of Natural Resources.