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