Coeur Alaska will pay $108,334 to settle violations of the Clean Water Act at the Kensington Mine, 45 miles north of downtown Juneau, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.
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The company agreed to pay $18,334 in penalties and $90,000 toward the purchase of a wetlands area near Juneau. The violations occurred from September 2005 until February 2006.
During that time, the company exceeded allowable amounts of aluminum in its discharge into Sherman Creek. It also was liable for causing high turbidity levels - or dirtying the water - with runoff into Johnson Creek.
Fluctuations in turbidity and aluminum levels may harm fish habitat.
"The mining industry is an important part of Alaska's economy," said Kim Ogle, an EPA Northwest Region compliance unit manager. "But it must operate responsibly and manage its storm water discharge in a way that protects the environment."
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The winter of 2005-06 saw an unusually high level of rainfall in the Juneau area. Coeur had a plan to deal with heavy storms, but the EPA ruled that it inadequately implemented the plan. Coeur's construction permits were temporarily suspended for part of the period.
Coeur spokesman Scott Lamb said the company tried to stabilize the area in the face of the heavy rain.
He said the aluminum was natural to the local soil, and the heavy storms caused more of it to run into the water.
"The runoff did not pose a threat to employees, property, or wildlife," Lamb said. "We reported the event promptly and then worked with the EPA to reduce the chances that this could recur, including updating our storm water management plan."
EPA compliance officer Robert Grandinetti said Coeur's discharge permits require the mine to report discharges monthly.
To prevent further violations, Coeur Alaska hired an erosion and sediment control consultant, and has implemented a new plan to control storm water from the mine's construction site.
The mine has also installed a filter system that will help remove aluminum particles from its wastewater.
Coeur will contribute money toward purchase of wetlands in the Strawberry Creek drainage, at mile 25 on Glacier Highway. The wetland will be protected under a conservation easement managed by the Alaska Land Trust.
Grandinetti said Coeur either could either pay an undisclosed cash amount or contribute part of the penalty amount to a conservation project.
"We hope this settlement also sends the message statewide on the importance of protecting salmon-supporting waters from construction-related sediment discharges," said Mike Bussell, EPA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement director.
"This is especially important in Alaska, considering how important the wild salmon fishery is to the state's economy. Addressing such violations continues to be a top priority for EPA in Alaska and nationally."
Brittany Retherford can be reached at email@example.com. Read her natural resources blog, Muskegger, at www.juneaublogger.com/naturalresources.