My Turn: Regulation ensures water quality at mine site

Posted: Friday, December 09, 2005

The Kensington Mine is a good project. However, there is no doubt that a project of this magnitude and importance to the people of Juneau and the state of Alaska must be done right, and that involves a great deal of necessary regulation. Coeur Alaska understands and supports that. Occasionally, however, inaccurate statements are made about the project and it is important they be corrected.

David Chambers, who is a resident of Bozeman, Mont., wrote a My Turn column (Dec. 2) about Kensington that contained numerous misleading statements. However, he did make one correct statement when he said that Kensington will remove "... most metals in the ore as well as the chemicals used in the process. These, along with the gold recovered, will be sent off-site for further processing." What he failed to underscore is that Coeur Alaska implemented this more costly off-site treatment process to ensure that the water quality discharged from the Kensington Mine's Lower Slate Lake tailings facility will meet or exceed all applicable water-quality standards.

As a result of this proactive and more costly measure, the water quality in the lake at closure will essentially be the same water quality as today. The lake habitat, however, will be much improved by our lake restoration measures and that is no doubt one of the very important reasons the state, Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service supported this project. An ecological risk assessment prepared under direction of the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that upon closure Lower Slate Lake will have improved productivity. Perhaps the Montana gentleman was not aware of the conclusion from this study.

Prior to commencement of mineral processing, Coeur will capture and relocate the few native fish present in the lake. At the end of mining native wild fish will be restocked in the larger and more productive lake.

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the placement of fill material is regulated by the Corps of Engineers whether it is for mining, road building, residential or other construction activities. Mr. Chambers is correct when he wrote the Corps of Engineers has permitted mine-related fill activities for years. The 2002 rule making simply further clarified the regulatory role that the Corps of Engineers and EPA had been implementing for years.

What is important to remember, regardless of what you may hear or read, is that the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency together with the state of Alaska and Forest Service approved the Lower Slate Lake tailings management plan. They did so because they know that during the project the water quality will be maintained and at closure the lake will provide improved habitat for fish.

The Kensington Mine currently has more than 180 workers on site and has issued contracts for over $42 million. The project will provide over $10 million in state and local taxes per year and provide stability for the Juneau housing market by diversifying the local economy. The project has won endorsements by the governor, Southeast Conference, Resource Development Council along with Native corporations. Coeur Alaska appreciates this support and is committed to developing an environmentally responsible project, and being part of the future fabric of the Juneau community.

• Juneau resident Tim Arnold is the vice president and general manager of Coeur Alaska Inc.



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