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Kensington mine EIS draft nears completion

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2003

Residents concerned about the environmental impact of the Kensington Mine as well as those pleased at the prospect of more high-paying jobs for Juneau will have an opportunity to comment on the project.

The project's draft supplemental environmental impact statement is due out the first week of January, and its release will be followed by a standard 45-day comment period with public hearings in Juneau and Haines.

Developer Coeur Alaska says the gold mine 45 miles north of downtown Juneau would create 325 construction jobs and about 225 full-time permanent jobs, said company vice president Rick Richins.

The mine contains estimated reserves of 1.4 million to 1.8 million ounces of gold. The company projects potential production of up to 125,000 ounces of gold annually.

The mine is subject to a supplemental EIS rather than a full EIS, because the project has already been permitted twice. Once in 1992, and then in 1997, Richins said. Since then, the company has changed its plans to lower capital and operating costs and to move its facilities to the Jualin site, which is on the Berners Bay side of Lions Head Mountain.

The actual mining will be done on the Kensington site, which is on the other side of the mountain. Ore will be transported to the Jualin site via a 6,000-foot tunnel. The mill, access road and docks will be built on the Jualin site, Richins said.

The Berners Bay land is the subject of a controversial federal bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The bill would allow the U.S. Department of the Interior to trade an undetermined amount of federal land near Berners Bay to Sealaska Corp. and Cape Fox Native Corp. in exchange for about 3,000 acres of corporation land near Ketchikan.

Sealaska is the Southeast Alaska regional Native corporation and Cape Fox is a village Native corporation in Saxman.

The House version of the Cape Fox Land Entitlement Act was moved out of committee, and the Senate version will probably have a hearing in February, Richins said.

Coeur Alaska officials have said the mine can be developed regardless of whether the trade goes forward. Opponents of the bill worry about development in Berners Bay, a popular recreation spot for Juneau kayakers and campers.

"This mine may create temporary unsustainable jobs but would reap long term damage to local tour businesses using the bay, valuable subsistence, commercial and sport fisheries and sacred tribal lands," said Kat Hall of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Hall said the mine won't operate indefinitely.

"These tourism operators, they're more likely to work for years and years into the future. Whereas once the precious metals are gone, mining is finished," she said.

But Todd Saunders, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said the mine is a blessing for Juneau.

"The quality of our jobs is declining, the per capita income of people employed in Juneau has been going down for years. Mining jobs are high-paying jobs. It's got a lot of the earmarks of a long-term successful investment in the community and the quality of the jobs is high and would allow people to buy homes and spend money in stores and stimulate the economy," Saunders said.

Richins said the project must obtain a number of major federal permits dealing with air quality, mining discharge, and construction in wetlands, among other things. The project is also subject to a number or state permits coordinated by the state Department of Natural Resources, dealing with issues such as fish passage and water rights.

Richins said he expects the draft permits to be available for public comment in January.

The company is hoping to begin major construction on the mine next summer and is looking at December 2005 as a startup target date.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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