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Kensington Gold Mine Violates Clean Water Act

Mine waste disposal sets precedent for new way to pollute Alaska's waters
September 12, 2005
Juneau, AK —

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), Sierra Club, and Haines-based Lynn Canal Conservation, Inc. filed suit today challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for Coeur Alaska, Inc.'s Kensington gold project, which plans to dispose of millions of tons of mine waste in a mountain lake. Earthjustice is representing the groups in the litigation.

"We filed suit today to protect Alaska's clean water and the spectacular resources of Berners Bay," says Russell Heath, executive director of SEACC. "Juneau families can have both clean water and mining jobs if the Army Corps does its job properly to protect our water."

"The Army Corps has improperly applied new regulations redefining "fill" under the Clean Water Act to Coeur Alaska's chemically-processed mine waste," said Earthjustice attorney Demian Schane. As a result, the Army Corps authorized the dumping of this waste as "fill" into Lower Slate Lake, even though current EPA regulations prohibit the discharge of mine waste from gold mines like the Kensington into our lakes and streams.

"There are other options for mine waste disposal for the Kensington Mine," says Heath. "For example, Coeur's approved 1997 mine project used a land-based disposal facility instead of dumping the tailings into a lake."

"We're following this case closely because it has serious national consequences," says Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, a national organization that watchdogs the mining industry. "This is the first time since the passage of the Clean Water Act that a mine will dump its chemically-processed waste directly into a freshwater lake. If the precedent is set at the Kensington Mine, other lakes and streams in the U.S. could be subject to this harmful and unnecessary waste disposal method."

Coeur plans to dam Lower Slate Lake to make it large enough to hold 4.5 million tons of mine waste. The waste will smother all aquatic life and fish in the lake. After the mine closes, the corporation claims it can restore the lake, but technical tests were inconclusive. The 500-foot-long dam would have to remain in place forever. If it fails due to negligent maintenance or age, the tailings will spill down Slate Creek into Berners Bay.

"This action is about clean water," says Tim June of Lynn Canal Conservation. "It's about keeping Alaska's waters clean for the people of Alaska. It's about safeguarding the fishing, guiding, and tourism jobs that depend on clean water. It's about passing Alaska's treasures on, intact, to future generations."

At every opportunity, SEACC participated fully in the public review of the Kensington Mine Project, raising concerns with local, state, and federal agencies in an effort to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and protect the resources of Berners Bay. When the agencies failed to do so, SEACC talked directly with Coeur. Though these discussions proceeded in good faith for months, the parties recently failed to reach agreement. SEACC filed this litigation as a last resort.

"As permitted, the Kensington Mine clearly violates both the spirit and the letter of the Clean Water Act," says John Hudson, a SEACC Board member. "The Clean Water Act is one of America's greatest success stories. We have protected and restored thousands of lakes and rivers in the past thirty years -- safeguarding public health, keeping waters livable for fish and wildlife, and making our communities and neighborhoods better places to live. Dumping mine waste into a lake is a big step backwards -- it goes against everything Americans have worked to accomplish in the last thirty years."


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Contacts

Demian Schane, Earthjustice, 907-586-2751
Russell Heath, SEACC, 907-586-6942
Tim June, LCC, 619-307-1105 cell
John Hudson, SEACC, 907-789-6621
Bonnie Gestring, EARTHWORKS, 406-549-7361

About Earthjustice

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