SEACC seeks end to discord over station

Goldbelt says it was left out of Cascade Point negotiations

Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poor communication rankled discussions in the past few weeks about where the Kensington Mine transfer station should be located, but a key conservation group acknowledged the problems Friday and said it would attempt to make amends.

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While Goldbelt, Juneau's Native corporation, thought it had an agreement with mine owner Coeur Alaska to locate a transfer station on its land at Cascade Point, the mine company apparently changed its mind in the past few months, Goldbelt CEO Gary Droubay said.

Droubay charged that the decision to propose a transfer station at Yankee Cove - on property not owned by the Native corporation - occurred during private negotiations to which Goldbelt was not invited. The switch means Goldbelt would not realize planned economic gains in developing its land for the mine at Cascade Point.

Coeur Alaska declined to comment for this article, referring instead to a statement released Wednesday by the city. In it, the city refutes Goldbelt's claim that Coeur's switch to Yankee Cove marks a new demand.

"It's new to us," Droubay said Friday. "Up until this time, we always thought it was Coeur's intention to use Cascade Point."

The city brokered the facilitated talks, which started in September after a court found Coeur Alaska's mine tailings proposal violated the Clean Water Act and the company agreed to work with environmental groups to rewrite its plan.

While the court's ruling was based on tailings, environmental groups were concerned not only with the location and technology used for tailings, but also Cascade Point as a base for marine operations and various other operating problems.

The negotiations were between conservation groups and the mine owner, and mainly concerned tailings disposal. Goldbelt was not invited to participate.

Over the course of four discussions that ended last month, negotiations did not occur concerning Cascade Point, but Goldbelt's stake in the new plan was discussed, said Russell Heath, executive director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. At that point, Goldbelt should have been brought to the table, he said.

Mayor Bruce Botelho agreed.

"In retrospect, there would have been an appropriate time to consult directly with Goldbelt," Botelho said Friday.

Instead, Coeur Alaska representatives informed groups attending the negotiating sessions that an arrangement had been made regarding Cascade Point.

According to Droubay, there was no arrangement.

"It was a miscommunication between all three of us," Heath said, referring to SEACC, Coeur Alaska and Goldbelt.

Heath also said it was SEACC's intent that the negotiations to develop an environmentally and commercially sound plan result in a proposal that would compensate Goldbelt for its commercial loss. SEACC for years opposed locating a transfer station at Cascade Point because it would introduce pollutants into Berners Bay, a herring spawning ground.

Those intentions were not met. But Heath said that SEACC would attempt to move forward by negotiating in a way that addresses the Native corporation's concerns. He could not say Friday how that might occur.

Droubay said the Goldbelt board of directors is disappointed. Members of the board were involved in selecting the Cascade Point lands decades ago under terms of the Native Claims Settlement Act. They had originally selected Admiralty Island, but changed their choice over environmental concerns there.

"We believe it's important that the mine open," Droubay said Friday, because it would bring jobs to Juneau. The Native corporation would likely look elsewhere for development opportunities on Cascade Point, he said.

The U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources have preliminarily reviewed Coeur Alaska's operating plan. The company expects to begin the formal permitting process late this year or early in 2008, according to the city.

• Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kimberly.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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