Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Dirty gold but no Sarah Palin... yet

Coeur Alaska Inc, owned by Idaho based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation, has struck gold at Kensington mine, about 45 miles from Juneau.

The company had planned to pile its leftover debris on a wetlands on the other side of the mountain from Berners Bay - a solution embraced by environmentalists - but has shifted to a cheaper alternative. Taking advantage of a little publicized regulatory change adopted under the Bush administration in 2004, Coeur d'Alene Mines has obtained a federal permit to dump 4.5 million tons of tailings directly into a small sub-alpine lake near the mine, just above Berners Bay.

Surrounded by forest and important wetlands, Lower Slate Lake is situated on a terrace at an elevation of 650 feet in the Tongass National Forest. Slate Creek flows from the lake about three miles downstream into Berners Bay. Berners Bay is one of Southeast Alaska's most outstanding public resources. Berners Bay encompasses a wide range of ecosystems, including snow-capped alpine peaks, old-growth Sitka spruce and hemlock forest, cottonwood floodplains, freshwater marshes, and saltwater estuaries. Opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, gathering, kayaking, air boating, and camping abound, and commercial tourism in Berners Bay has increased in recent years.

In the spring, swarms of tiny eulachon rush in to spawn, and the bay floods with hundreds of killer whales, humpback whales and sea lions in hot pursuit, along with eagles and seabirds by the thousands. Fishermen flock to its herring, salmon and Dungeness crab.

The issue is before the U.S. Supreme Court. Environmentalists sued to halt the practice, saying dumping the mine tailings in the lake would be detrimental to the local flora, kill fish and affect other wildlife. A federal appeals court blocked the permit, saying the dumping is barred by stringent Environmental Protection Agency requirements under the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Conservationists say the plan is unprecedented in 30 years of mining under the federal Clean Water Act.

The Kensington case is getting close attention in Alaska due to its likely consequences for much bigger mining projects, such as Pebble, a massive and controversial copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska. They wish to dump their toxic waste in Bristol Bay.

The court's decision in the case could set a national precedent for how mining waste is disposed in the streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

The nearby city of Juneau, Native Alaskan leaders and Governor Sarah Palin have hailed the project as a godsend for a region desperate for jobs amid logging cutbacks, the closure of two big pulp mills and dwindling fishing opportunities.

I have nothing against mining, it provides jobs and brings money into an area that needs it.

But why do the big mining companies have to cut corners and try to dump their waste in sensitive areas in a move to maximize their already large profits? What happened to responsible mining?

I'm not going to accuse Sarah Palin on this occasion, she hasn't said or done anything controversial... yet.

LA Times, ADN, No Dirty Gold


Anonymous said...

Dear Regina, Just a note to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. When you tackle difficult subjects, you write about them in a way that it is easy to follow the issue. I love the art that you choose to highlight each topic. So, this is just a note of appreciation, with Thanks!

regina said...

Dear Anonymous,

I really appreciate your kind comment.

Sarah Palin's stories get very complicated and not all readers are familiar with the details, so I try to make some sense of it all.

It's not an easy task, considering how SP plows through any doors her god puts in her way... The stories keep on coming!

KaJo said...

RE: this mining company seeking a permit to foul the subalpine lake -- and the bigger problem, mining interests moving forward on the Pebble Mine project -- there's just no end to the purposeful willful ignorance by these for-profit corporations, is there?

You wonder if it'd be better to just stand aside and let all of them turn Alaska into a giant waste management facility (and let them go ahead and secede from the Union while they're at it).

Then when people ask whatever happened to Alaska King crab, Copper River salmon, Bristol Bay salmon, polar bears, beluga-killer-humpback whales, we can say "this is what happens when 'conservatives' are allowed free rein without federal government 'interference'. Remember Governor Palin? You can blame her for the loss, the extinction of such excellence, such beauty".


BTW, Regina, you referred to Alaska King crab in your notes above as "Dungeness crab".

Uh, uh! Dungeness crab is unique to the upper west peninsula of Washington State, just outside of Port Angeles. There's a spit of sand called "Dungeness Spit", and I believe that's where this tasty crab was first harvested; thus, the name.

regina said...


I confess I don't know much about crab... apart from eating it! The reference came from the article where I got some of the the information about Berners Bay.



majii said...

I don't think companies and those who stand to profit from their abuses of the environment care. They want instant gratification in the form of profit. This is really shameful behavior. Why not protect the environment and be able to make a profit at the same time? This case reminds me of an instance in the recent past when an automaker would not spend .09 per vehicle to make the sliding doors on its' minivans safer. To these people, life and the environment are expendable if they stand in the way of profits.

Duncan said...

Hi Regina,

Newport, Oregon is also home to a great Dungeness crab fishery.


Emily said...

Every time I see Bristol Bay mentioned on this blog or other Palin sources, I kind of do a double take. Sarah Palin named her child in honor of this bay(well, it was apparently that or Bristol, Connecticut) but she doesn't care about the bay at all.

(Also, I agree with the anonymous person praising the use of pictures here. Very clever!)