This is an aerial picture of the Hecla Greens Creek Mine taken in May 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

This is an aerial picture of the Hecla Greens Creek Mine taken in May 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Hecla Greens Creek Mine agrees to $143K fine after 2019 EPA violations

Mine official say violations have been addressed.

Hecla Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island has agreed to pay a $143,000 fine for violating four federal hazardous waste management and disposal requirements, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

According to an EPA news release, the violations were discovered during an August 2019 inspection. They include disposal of hazardous waste containing lead without a permit, failure to conduct a weekly inspection of a hazardous waste storage area, failure to determine if waste from mining operations was hazardous and failure to properly label a used oil container.

“EPA continues to hold mining companies accountable for hazardous waste disposal practices,” Ed Kowalski, director of EPA Region 10 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated in the release. “The company operates in a relatively remote and pristine area in Alaska, underscoring their obligation to prevent pollution from entering public lands surrounding the mine.”

The 34-year-old precious metals mine is located at the northern end of Admiralty Island National Monument and is the largest silver mine in the U.S. It’s been in operation at its site since 1989 and is the only mine in the country that has permission to operate inside a national monument.

The EPA has the authority to inspect the mine under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a framework of regulations, guidance and policy that are Congressionally mandated and developed by the EPA for “proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.”

According to Mike Satre, Hecla’s director of government affairs, “we take regulatory compliance seriously at Greens Creek and have addressed all of the items the EPA found.”

Satre said the mine “always wants to maintain compliance,” and since the violations were discovered the mine has implemented new construction and inspection procedures to ensure compliance in the future. As part of the settlement the company agreed to “continue to clean up lead contaminated soil.”

“It’s been identified and things have been put into place to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

The announcement of the violations comes as Greens Creek seeks to extend the life of its production beyond 2031 via four extension project alternatives being proposed, which include expanding its 8.5-million-cubic yard disposal facility to hold up to an additional 5 million cubic yards of tailings and waste rock storage.

Some of the alternatives have the potential to extend the mine’s life up to 40 years.

However, while the mine is considered an economic cornerstone for surrounding communities, local critics say it is causing drastically higher lead levels and other ecosystem impacts, and residents of the nearby village of Angoon have spoken out repeatedly against the proposed expansion.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

This is an aerial picture of the Hecla Greens Creek Mine taken in May 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

This is an aerial picture of the Hecla Greens Creek Mine taken in May 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

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