Gold Mine to Dump Mine Waste in Pristine Alaskan Lake
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 06/22/2005
Juneau, Alaska – The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) today issued a precedent-setting permit that will allow a mining company to dump 4.5 million tons of chemically-processed mine waste directly into Lower Slate Lake on the Tongass National Forest, effectively turning the freshwater lake into a dead zone. The permit clears the way for final approval of Coeur Alaska's proposed Kensington gold mine, whose facilities would stretch across the Berners Bay watershed, which is home to sea lions, humpback whales, four species of wild salmon, bald eagles, brown and black bears, and moose.
“Today's decision is the first time since the Clean Water Act became law that the federal government will allow mine waste to be dumped directly into a freshwater lake,” said Bonnie Gestring, field staff for EARTHWORKS. “This decision blatantly contradicts the Clean Water Act's fundamental purpose, which is to prevent America's lakes, streams, and rivers from being turned into toxic waste dumps.”
The permit decision follows a highly controversial rule change by the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2002 that redefined “fill” material under the Clean Water Act to include waste rock and chemically-processed mine waste called “tailings.” National attention has focused on the impacts [k1]of that rule change on streams harmed by the practice of mountain top removal from coal-mining operations in the Appalachians. Today's decision is the first time the new definition is applied to metal mining.
“Instead of protecting Alaska's clean water, the Corps is sacrificing it for the profits of a mining company,” said Kat Hall, a representative of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC). “It's like the 1950s. We're going backwards.”
Coeur already had approval to build a conventional tailings disposal facility, but the company applied for a permit to dump tailings directly into the lake as a cost-cutting measure.