Very little news on the web about the opening of the Kensington Mine, near Juneau, Alaska this week.
The mine and its tailings disposal system were the subject of a long-running and complex legal battle. The dispute was about the meaning of the word “water” and about which Federal agency had the duty, or right, to issue permits to put the tailings in a local lake. You can read what I wrote about this case at these links—older postings on this blog:
- Supreme Court Justices rule
- Mine Tailings in Alaskan Lakes
- Mining in Lakes and Canyons
- Pebble and Kensington
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state and Coeur d’Alene in June 2009, reversing a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and upholding a previously issued permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for disposal of mine tailings. The case involved the complex issue of interpreting the federal Clean Water Act.
“This was an uphill battle because the federal government chose not to take the fight all the way to the nation’s highest court,” Sullivan [Alaska's Attorney General] said. “Fortunately, Coeur and the state were successful in petitioning the court to take the case and ultimately rule in our favor. This is the kind of vigilance the state needs to maintain in protecting our resource development options.”
Coeur says that the mine’s capital expenditures have been $338 million and that there will be about $16 million in annual wages for 200 permanent mine workers. The fight for the mine was a community-wide effort including critical support from several local Native organizations, including Goldbelt and Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska; the City and Borough of Juneau; other Southeast municipalities; and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
As I write this, I am in Juneau about to visit Greens Creek tomorrow. They have a dry stack tailings pile (the link is to the EIS for expansion of the stack.) See also this document that is public much to my amazement. Worth reading though as it describes all the dry stack tailings facilities from Alaska, through Canada, to Mexico.
I cannot but wonder: have the folk up there at the Pebble Mine considered dry stack tailings? Or will it be too big a mine and will such a sound form of tailings disposal be “too expensive?” Maybe they will consider it as an alternative in the EIS and simply dismiss it. That would be sad, as dry stack tailings, admittedly expensive, results in a much more geomorphically stable, on-land facility. See the Greens Creek EIS for the reasons why.
Regardless, we must admire the perseverance of those at Kensington and we wish them good mining and ask only that they supply us with lots of data to prove the courts right.