About two dozen people gathered at the Juneau Ranger District Station Tuesday night, to learn about Coeur Alaska’s plans to expand their operations at the Kensington mine near Berners Bay.
Maps made from satellite images of the mine’s facilities were hung on the walls of a conference room at the ranger station, each showing a different section of the mine and the proposed expansion.
This event was among the first event for a public comment period ending Nov. 7 in which the U.S. Forest Service, which will oversee the permitting process, is asking for feedback from the public.
“We’re looking for public input for anything we might have overlooked,” said Nicholas Larson, Deputy Forest Supervisor in the Tongass National Forest for the U.S. Forest Service. Larson said the Forest Service would take the public’s input before it began drafting its supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
An EIS is required from the Forest Service in order for Coeur to receive the necessary permitting for the project. Tuesday night was an opportunity for the public to learn more about the project and submit comments in writing.
Most of the people who attended the event were connected with the mining industry. Many people wore Coeur Alaska hats or coats and others worked for consulting companies or state agencies involved with the project.
Denny Dewitt, executive director of the First Things First Alaska Foundation and a long-time mining advocate, came to get information on the project.
“You have to look at the totality of what’s going on, the commitment Coeur have to stewarding our environment,” Dewitt said. “Have any of the mines ever made a mistake? Probably. Have any of them ever been catastrophic? No. Have they put a lot into our economy for the things we want to do? Yeah, an awful lot.”
Dewitt pointed out that Coeur was the largest taxpayer in Juneau and that it paid its workers well and provided support to several community programs.
Coeur Alaska has funded programs in the Juneau School District and at the Center for Mine Training at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Others were not as convinced. Sarah Davidson from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said that she had come mostly to listen, but that she also had some reservations.
“My concerns are impacts to water quality, especially in light of some recent violations that Kensington has been fined for by the EPA,” Davidson said. “There are still some other people I want to talk to,” she said when asked how the information being presented had affected her thinking.
Coeur Alaska was fined just over half a million dollars earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations dating back to 2015. In an opinion piece for the Empire following the announcement of the EPA fines, General Manager for Coeur Alaska and the Kensington mine Mark Kiessling said the violations were several years old and, “don’t reflect the current operating status of the mine.”
Larry Hurlock, a retired construction worker, came to the event partly out of an interest in mining and partly out of a concern for water quality.
“I was asking them how they mine, what kind of drill they use,” he said. “I’ve worked with drills so it was interesting to me.”
But he was also concerned about impacts on the environment.
“You’re going to change things, and one of things you can change is water quality,” Hurlock said. “But you’ve come to me too early.”
Hurlock said that he was still unsure of what the impacts of the mine expansion might mean, and that he wanted to attend future informational events.
Coeur wants to expand the life of Kensington Mine until 2032 and needs to expand its waste water and rock facilities in order to do so.
A draft EIS will be submitted next year before the company can receive its permits to begin construction.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or email@example.com.