Alaska, Federal Government Unite to Support Mining Project

Published September 1, 2004

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached agreement on June 21 with the State of Alaska to issue a draft permit and public notices regarding a much-anticipated gold mine to be operated by the Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation. Through cooperation among business interests, resident workers, and government agencies safeguarding the environment, the new mining operations are expected to provide hundreds of high-paying jobs for Alaska residents, while taking comprehensive measures to safeguard the local environment, as state and federal authorities insisted.

High-Paying Local Jobs

Pending final approval after legally required public notice and debate, the proposed Kensington Gold Project will be located approximately 45 miles north of Juneau, Alaska in the Tongass National Forest. The area contains an estimated 1.8 million ounces of proven and provable gold reserves and 1.4 million ounces of other valuable resources. (Provable reserves are “estimated quantities … which geological and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions,” according to the Securities and Exchange Commission definition.)

With gold trading at roughly $400 an ounce, the area’s provable gold resources alone are worth more than $700 million to the local and state economy. Coeur spokespersons said company officials believe significant exploration potential exists at Kensington, which could materially increase the project’s total resources.

“The Kensington Project is one that has been very important to southeast and all of Alaska for some time,” said Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski (R). “It is consistent with our goal of helping to create high-paying jobs in the natural resource sector. I am pleased with the signing of the [Memorandum of Understanding] and look forward to the permitting and construction of the project.”

“The signing of this [Memorandum of Understanding] brings certainty regarding completion of permitting so the final feasibility study can be updated on this major gold project, which would significantly increase Coeur’s gold production–and bring several hundred jobs to Southeast Alaska,” said Coeur Chairman Dennis Wheeler.

Agreement Ensures Environmental Protection

The agreement between Coeur and EPA, the Army Corps, and the State of Alaska establishes maximum allowable discharges into area streams, as well as maximum allowable impacts regarding the local environment. For example, the agreement sets limits on the transportation of people and equipment across Berners Bay and other area waterways that support fish species such as salmon and char.

“Coeur expects to employ 500 workers, 300 in initial construction and 200 in operations,” noted Greg O’Claray, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, in a July 2 news release. “The mine will also support an estimated 180 indirect jobs,” O’Claray said. “Payroll and benefits will boost the regional economy by $16 million.”

“This is great news,” said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association. “What if every state supported mining like Alaska does under Governor Murkowski?”

O’Claray’s July 2 statement appears above.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment and Climate News.