The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday reinstated a permit needed for the construction of a gold mine north of Juneau, but environmentalists plan to fight the decision to allow waste to flow into a natural alpine lake.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday reinstated a permit needed for the construction of a gold mine north of Juneau, but environmentalists plan to fight the decision to allow waste to flow into a natural alpine lake.
In November, the Corps suspended a permit to allow Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. to dump ore waste from the Kensington gold mine into the lake after environmentalists said the discharge would kill fish in the remote wetland.
The Kensington project is the first metal mine to take advantage of a federal rule loosening restrictions on mountaintop coal extraction. The rule now classifies discharge milled ore waste -- known as tailings -- as benign fill and not a pollutant.
The Idaho-based mining company said it will resume full construction of the gold mine, expected to produce 100,000 ounces of gold annually starting in 2007.
"We will now focus on moving forward with the full-scale construction of the mine," Couer d'Alene Mines Chief Executive Dennis Wheeler said in a statement.
Representatives of the environmental plaintiffs said they will press on with their legal challenge to the permit, which they say sets a dangerous precedent.
"What do we stand for? Alaska's clean water or some corporation's bottom line?" Kat Hall of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said in a news release.
Another attorney said the permit violates the basic principles of the Clean Water Act of 1972, because it allows the company to dump 210,000 gallons of tailings daily into the lake.
"It will smother the lake. It will kill all of the fish and nearly all of the aquatic life in the lake for at least the lifetime of the mine, and that's a completely unacceptable impact," said Tom Waldo, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Coeur d'Alene Mines maintains lake disposal is the best of all methods available for Kensington waste.
"You have a small, unproductive lake that is fairly remote, not used for recreation, that does not really provide much spawning activity," said Coeur d'Alene spokesman Scott Lamb.
"In looking at all of the various options that were available for disposal ... this method was the one that was deemed to have the least environmental impact."