Mining company Couer Alaska is looking to extend the life of the Kensington gold mine north of Juneau by 10 years, according to a statement from the U.S. Forest Service.
The company is seeking to amend its plan of operations for the project to allow additional storage and treatment facilities for waste material from mining operations.
According to a letter from the Forest Service, Couer Alaska “is requesting additional tailings, waste rock disposal, and related infrastructure to allow for continuous mine operations.” The existing storage facilities will be sufficient until 2023, according to the letter; the proposed expansions will extend the mine life until 2033.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, tailings “are the coarsely and finely ground waste portions of mined material remaining after (extraction) operations have removed the valuable constituents from the ore.” Tailings often leave the mine in a “slurry,” a mixture of minerals and water that is stored in large pits. Tailings can be toxic and are the source of controversy because of their potential harm to the environment.
Waste rock, according to the EPA, “consists of rock and target minerals in concentrations too low for economic recovery,” and can range from fine sand to large boulders depending on the kind of mining methods used.
The letter from the Forest Service states that tailings storage would be increased by raising a dam at a tailings treatment facility, existing waste rock stockpiles would be expanded and a new stockpile constructed.
The letter also says that the company will construct two deltas and reroute a creek to mitigate the loss of fish spawning habitat.
The Kensington mine is located on a peninsula between Berners Bay and Lynn Canal just north of Point Bridget State Park, approximately 45 miles north of Juneau. The mine is within the boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau and the city will issue permits for certain facilities, according to the Forest Service.
Couer Alaska will be holding a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 26 to give more details on the project.
Public comment on the project began Tuesday and will continue through Nov. 7. Public hearings will be held in Juneau on Oct. 8, from 5-8 p.m. at the Juneau Ranger Station at 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road. Meetings will be held in Haines Oct. 9, from 5-8 p.m. at the Haines Library.
Public comment can also be submitted online via the Forest Service website.
Earlier this year, Couer Alaska reached a settlement with the EPA which had identified a number of environmental regulations violations including 200 wastewater discharge violations. The company paid over $500,00 in fines to the EPA.
In a letter to the Empire following that settlement, Kensington General Manger Mark Kiessling said that many of the violations identified by the EPA, “were several years old and don’t reflect the current operation status of the mine,” and that “none of the alleged violations resulted in any significant harm to the environment.”
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