Story last updated at 8/19/2009 - 5:58 pm
ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last Friday allowed Coeur Alaska to construct a mine tailings storage facility in Lower Slate Lake at the Kensington gold mine north of Juneau.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Idaho-based Coeur the go-ahead to dump waste from the mine into nearby Slate Lake. But a month later, regional EPA official Michael Gearheard sent a letter to the corps asking it to look at an alternative method to handle the tailings. The EPA had estimated the re-evaluation to take eight months.
Corps officials in Anchorage were not immediately available for comment Friday.
However, a statement from the agency said more than 8,500 comments received during the public comment period were considered in extending the permit issued in 2005. It authorizes work through July 2014.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said the corps made the right decision.
"This is good news for an ailing Southeast Alaska economy, and after 20 years of study and debate, Alaskans can finally go to work," Begich said in a statement. "The mine will create hundreds of good-paying jobs for Alaskans and help expand the mining industry in a responsible way."
Construction at the mine has been on hold since 2006 because of the tailings issue.
Tailings are the ground-up waste rock left after metals are removed from ore. Coeur wants to put the tailings in Lower Slate Lake, which feeds Berners Bay, and treat the water coming out.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with that plan and said the corps had been right to issue a permit for the Lower Slate Lake tailings plan. In a 6-3 majority, the court called the disposal plan the environmentally preferred option for the mine, citing the corps' analysis.
After the Lower Slate Lake plan was halted, Coeur applied for a permit to build a paste tailings facility. But the company canceled its application in fall 2008, shortly before agencies expected to issue it, and instead focused on its Supreme Court bid to reinstate the Slate Lake plan.
The company has said a paste tailings option would be more expensive than the Slate Lake plan.