PUBLISHED: 4:58 PM on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Kensington mines: Alaska's golden touch
Five Questions with Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation
Jan Trigg , manager of community relations and governmental affairs for Coeur's Southeast Alaska mines, talks about the history of the Kensington mines and what is in store for the future.

What is the history of the Kensington Mine?

Gold was first discovered at the mouth of Sherman Creek about 1886. At one point between 1890 and 1910 at least 16 mines operated within a five mile radius of the Kensington, which is at the northern extension of the Juneau Gold Belt.

By 1900, Seward City was established at Kensington. It became the landing terminus for supplies delivery and for loading milled ore onto ships. A narrow gauge railroad ran from the wharf to the Berners Bay Mining and Milling Company mill located on Sherman Creek.

Ore was originally milled in a 40-stamp mill at the Bear Mine. By 1901, the Comet Mine had been worked. The mines were re-established and closed several times up through the mid-1930's when an Alaska Territory tax on gross production of precious metals discouraged further development until after World War II.

The Jualin Mine north of Berners Bay was also discovered about 1896. It operated until 1901 when excessive water shut down the operations. Between 1905 and 1919, it opened and shut down producing over $750,000 worth of gold (price = $30/oz.). Coeur Alaska (Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation) acquired the property in 1987. After entering into a joint venture with Echo Bay Mines in 1988, Coeur acquired 100 percent interest in 1995. Coeur is the current owner/operator of the mine.

What materials have been mined? What process do those minerals go through after being extracted?

Gold is the only mineral that is actively mined in the Kensington/Jualin District.

After mining, the ore is crushed and finely ground, like talcum powder. It is then put through a metallurgical process where the gold is extracted by flotation.

Flotation chemicals are organic-based and biodegradable. A concentrate, which contains all the gold and over 97 percent of the other metals, is made at the mill and sent off-site for final treatment and production of gold.

What are the jobs that will be available as Kensington moves into production and what will the schedules be?

Kensington will create a wide array of jobs and careers as we move forward into production. The project will have about 200 direct jobs. The types of occupations required for production will be underground experienced miners and entry level miners, mill operators, assay lab technicians, heavy equipment operators, mechanics, electricians, mine engineers, geologists, surveyors, metallurgist, and other support staff.

Miners typically work 12 hour shifts, 10 hours underground. Mill workers and other departments, such as environmental, may work up to 12 hours per day. The mine operates 24 hours per day.

The University of Alaska Southeast and MAPTS will be providing new miner training to potential local candidates at the UAS Vocational Technical Center across from the Juneau-Douglas High School.

Classes will be scheduled in accordance with our hiring needs, which we anticipate to be finalized once we receive all the of required permits to begin construction of our paste tailings facility.

What is the status of your negotiations with the Conservation Groups regarding the new paste tailings alternative?

The discussions are continuing. At this time the conservationists have indicated they believe the paste tailings option is "promising" and they are willing to continue to work with Coeur through the permitting phase.

During this phase the federal, state and local agencies will continue to evaluate the merits of the plan, its design, environmental monitoring, mitigation, and reclamation proposals.

At this time, the Conservation groups are providing their input to Coeur on those proposals. In this manner, we hope to avoid future appeals and litigation so that the construction and operation can proceed. There are 375 direct and indirect jobs at stake. It is important we keep this dialogue going forward.

Do most of the minerals, particularly gold, stay in Alaska or are they exported throughout the world?

Most of the minerals produced in Alaska are exported around the U.S. and the world. Gold, for example, is used in jewelry of course, but also as an automotive catalyst, in fuel cells, computers, anti-cancer drugs, dental and environmental technologies. This requires wide distribution and use.