Today the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction halting the destruction of Lower Slate Lake at the site of the proposed Kensington Gold Mine. The mining company was in the process of preparing the lake for use as a waste disposal site, where it plans to eventually dispose 4.5 million tons of mine waste. The court order allows all other mine-related activities to proceed. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, and Lynn Canal Conservation have challenged the Corps of Engineers permit authorizing the waste disposal in the lake. If allowed to proceed as planned, the Kensington Mine would be the first mine since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 to dispose of its chemically-treated waste in a lake or stream. The court issued the temporary injunction protecting Lower Slate Lake while it examines the legality of the Kensington Mine's plan to use the lake as a waste dump.
"The mining company is free to continue building the mine and mill. The only parts of their work that have been stopped are those activities connected to filling in Slate Lake," said Earthjustice attorney Demian Schane. "Lakes are no place to dump mine waste. Other mines manage their wastes without destroying lakes."
"This decision sends a strong signal that the Ninth Circuit agrees the Clean Water Act prohibits anyone from dumping 4.5 million tons of mine tailings into our lakes and streams," said Rob Cadmus of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. "Kensington can store its waste in more responsible ways, as well-run gold mines in other parts of the country do."
"I see this as a time-out to protect clean water. Our clean water is worth holding off on the construction at Lower Slate Lake," said Tim June, a commercial fisherman and member of Lynn Canal Conservation. "Managed properly, our fisheries will continue to be a valuable renewable resource for many generations. This time-out will help ensure that fishermen and coastal residents won't have to shoulder the risk of polluted water, or the perception of it."
The injunction halts activities relating to the use of the lake as a waste disposal site such as cutting trees, building roads, building dams, diverting streams, or altering the water level of the lake. The mining company is free to keep building the mine and the mill. The Ninth Circuit also agreed to accelerate the legal process to resolve the appeal as soon as possible.
The Corps of Engineers' permits allow the Kensington mine to dump 210,000 gallons of mine tailings per day into Lower Slate Lake, ultimately totaling 4.5 million tons of waste. The tailings would essentially kill all fish in the lake and make it uninhabitable for aquatic life.
"We're looking at the big picture of mining in Alaska. From that standpoint, Coeur is choosing to put its bottom line ahead of keeping Alaska's water clean," said Rob Cadmus of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. "If Kensington were allowed to dump tailings in a lake, it would set the stage for other mines across Alaska to discard their waste into our clean water -- the heart and soul of our fishing, recreation, and tourism industries."
If the permit allowing the use of Lower Slate Lake as a tailings dump stands, it will set a major precedent, both state-wide and nation-wide, for future mines. Allowing a mining company to dump tailings in a lake at the Kensington mine could pave the way for the massive, controversial Pebble mine near Bristol Bay, which Senator Ted Stevens and many Alaskans oppose because of the harm it could do to the $100-million-dollar fisheries there. Subsistence fishermen are also concerned that Pebble will jeopardize their lifestyle. Many people in the Bristol Bay region are closely following the Kensington case.
"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," says Mark Rorick of the Juneau Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Dumping mine tailings into a lake is taking a big step backwards."
Russell Heath, Executive Director, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, (907) 586-6942
Mark Rorick, Juneau Group of Sierra Club, (907) 789-5472
Carolyn Weishahn, Lynn Canal Conservation, (907) 767-5552
Tom Waldo / Demian Shane, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751
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