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Ninth Circuit rules against Slate Lake mine project

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2006

Conservationists won an important court ruling Friday when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld an injunction preventing the Kensington Mine from continuing construction work at Lower Slate Lake, where the company eventually hopes to dump its tailings.

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"(Southeast Alaska Conservation Council) has shown a likelihood of success on the merits because it has argued persuasively that the Corps' permit to Coeur Alaska violates the Clean Water Act," the ruling stated.

The ruling came after Coeur Alaska, the mine's parent company, had asked the court this fall to lift the injunction. A ruling in Coeur Alaska's favor would have allowed them to continue construction work at the lake in preparation for the mine's opening, which is slated for late 2007.

The conservation council had initially requested the injunction on the tail of a lawsuit filed in August contending the mine would violate the Clean Water Act if it were allowed to dump its tailings in the lake.

Coeur Alaska has been granted required Army Corps of Engineers permits for the project and believes it to be the most environmentally sound way of disposing of the mine waste.

The Friday court ruling essentially said that vacating the injunction before the results of the lawsuit would prove harmful to the environment.

Council officials were pleased with the court decision, although they would not go so far as to call it a "victory."

"It certainly is another strong signal from the Ninth Circuit that dumping waste in the lake is illegal," said Executive Director Russell Heath. The council has stated it is not opposed to the mine itself but would want a "legal and environmental way" of disposing of the tailings.

"That is dry stack tailings, a method used by many mines across the country, including Greens Creek," Heath said.

Coeur Alaska spokesman Scott Lamb offered few comments on the ruling, saying only that "the order issued today confirmed the issuance of the temporary injunction until the court decides the merits of the case."

Conservation groups worry that allowing the mine to dispose of its tailings in the lake will set a precedent for other Alaska mines, such as the proposed project at Bristol Bay.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com. Read her natural resources blog, The Muskegger, by logging onto www.juneaublogger.com/naturalresources.



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