Congratulations to the National Marine Fisheries Service and federal Environmental Protection Agency). They've concluded that Coeur's proposal to locate its Kensington Mine operation in Berners Bay and dump its mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake would have greater adverse environmental impacts than its earlier proposal to locate the mining operation outside Berners Bay, stack its tailings on well-drained upland, and keep mine-related vessel traffic out of the bay.
In the late 1990s, Coeur said that its earlier proposal would be economically profitable before gold prices hit today's $450 an ounce.
It's reassuring that two federal agencies have taken a deliberate approach. In its Dec. 1 letter to the U.S. Forest Service, EPA says Coeur's approved 1996 mine design is the only option that would avoid "habitat loss in Lower Slate Lake" and "significant impacts to sensitive habitats and resources in Berners Bay." NMFS, in its Dec. 3 letter to the USFS and the Corps of Engineers, has said that dock construction at Cascade Point, crew transport between there and Slate Creek Cove, and barge transit in Berners Bay are "likely to adversely affect Steller sea lions and humpback whales."
Curiously, the USFS has chosen to ignore EPA's and NMFS' concerns and plans to prematurely publish its final supplemental environmental impact statement on Dec. 23.
Meanwhile the state has blissfully embraced Coeur's latest mine design with disregard for EPA's and NMFS' concerns and apparently with only three design modifications - a pipeline diversion around Lower Slate Lake, a reverse osmosis water treatment system, and capping of tailings. Objectivity of the state's position is questionable because Gov. Murkowski prevailed on the Legislature to abolish the Division of Governmental Coordination in the Governor's Office. That division served two Republican and three Democratic governors by working with various state agencies to develop balanced state positions on natural resource issues. Under the Murkowski administration any input from the state departments of Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation goes straight to the Department of Natural Resources, the very agency responsible for promoting mining. So much for balance in state government.
Alaskans deserve better. If the state won't look out for environmental protection, we can be thankful that EPA and NMFS are.
Bruce H. Baker
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