Juneau ordinance could speed up Kensington Mine

Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A new mining ordinance passed Monday night by the Juneau Assembly could speed development of Coeur Alaska's Kensington Mine Project by six months, according to a company vice president.

Coeur Alaska Vice President Rick Richens said construction could begin on the gold mine about 45 miles north of downtown Juneau in fall 2004.

The mining ordinance makes rural mines that undergo state or federal environmental review ''allowable uses,'' barring the city from imposing permitting conditions that are covered by state or federal permits.

Coeur's project falls into the borough's rural district and will not have to go through the city's complete permitting process.

Supporters say the ordinance streamlines a cumbersome and duplicative process. Critics say it demonstrates a loss of local control.

''I believe that development of this magnitude belongs as a conditional use. I think an allowable use is more appropriate for a minor development than for a major development,'' said Assemblyman Marc Wheeler, who voted against the ordinance.

The ordinance passed 6-2. Mayor Sally Smith cast the other dissenting vote.

Juneau resident Dixie Hood said weakening controls in state and federal government make local control more important than ever.

''The reality is that the priorities of the administrations in Washington, D.C., and in Alaska are changing our environmental protections and are not reliable,'' Hood said. ''Eliminating duplication or redundancy is one thing ... eliminating hard-won public process is another.''

Supporters of the ordinance emphasized the benefits the mining industry. Mining entrepreneur Neil MacKinnon said the time is right for mining development.

''Miss the window of opportunity and it may be generations before favorable conditions coincide again,'' MacKinnon said. ''It is the mining investment capital that provides the jobs, economic opportunity and tax base that has powered this community for 80 percent of its existence.''

Richens said the Kensington project would employ 325 construction workers during an estimated 16-month building venture as well as 225 full-time operating jobs, a $60 million annual payroll and an estimated $1 million in annual tax revenues.

Under the old mining ordinance, Richens said, the mine would have had to wait for its environmental impact statement and all necessary state and federal permits before beginning a local permitting process that could have taken six months.

Now Coeur must apply for about 35 permits, but it can begin the allowable use approval process immediately after the draft EIS is issued. Richens said that could happen as early as September.

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