The Kensington gold mine near Juneau, Alaska, could be producing gold within a year, now that all injunctions against the mine operator’s permit to dump waste into a nearby freshwater lake have been lifted.
Plans call for up to 4.5 million tons of waste from the gold mine to be disposed of in Lower Slate Lake 3 miles from the Kensington mine, instead of in a specially built tailings pond. The mining company, Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp., acknowledges that this will kill all the fish and much of the aquatic life in the lake.
Work at the mine halted in 2006, when environmentalists appealed a federal judge’s decision to uphold Coeur’s permit to dump waste into the lake. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the proposed waste disposal method violated the Clean Water Act, and the mine stayed closed. Coeur and the state of Alaska appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court last month approved the company’s waste-disposal plan, sending the case back to the appeals court to lift the injunction.
Coeur’s permission to dump waste in the lake is based on a redefining of the waste as “fill” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This means the waste disposal will be regulated by the Army Corps rather than by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin supported the Supreme Court’s decision, which she said “is a green light for responsible resource development.”
The mine is expected to generate jobs and revenue for in the Juneau area, but environmentalists worry the ruling might set a more lenient precedent for mining waste disposal in waterways throughout the United States.
Kensington could resume operations as soon as late 2010, once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determines what modifications need to be made to its permit, according to a story in the Juneau Empire by Kate Golden.
– InvestigateWest intern Emily Linroth