Environmental groups disputing Greens Creek mine permit

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- An environmental group claims a $24.4 million bond required to be posted by the operators of the Greens Creek Mine is inadequate to cover future cleanup costs at the site.

Earthjustice is appealing a decision by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to issue a new solid waste permit to the Kennecott Greens Creek Mining Company.

In a letter filed with the department Monday, Earthjustice alleges that the bond amount required to guarantee cleanup of mining waste is not adjusted for inflation over the five years that the permit is valid.

The environmental group also claims that portions of the company's mining operation were not included in the permit and therefore are not subject to environmental scrutiny.

Earthjustice is appealing the decision to DEC Commissioner Michele Brown on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

The group warns that the state could be left to pay the cost for cleaning up harmful acid runoff from mine tailings without an adequate bond.

Greens Creek Mine is co-owned by Kennecott Minerals Corp. and Hecla Corp. and produces zinc and lead. The environmental group claims that last year the mine produced 2.7 million tons of waste.

The department issued a five-year permit to the mining operation Aug. 16 after an extensive review that also included the Department of Natural Resources, said Tom Chapple, director for the DEC Division of Air and Water Quality.

''All the resource agencies had a part in looking at this issue and what it would mean,'' Chapple said.

Under provisions of the permit, the department will review the company's annual report of mining activities and will consider any changes in the permit. In five years the amount of the bond will also be reviewed.

Thomas Waldo, an attorney for Earthjustice, said inflationary concerns could result in millions lost that could have been used to clean up the site should the mine close within five years.

The environmental group's appeal request claims that at least $3.2 million is needed to protect the bond from inflation. The groups allege that Hecla Corp. is embroiled in a dispute with state and federal regulators over $138 million in mining cleanup costs in Idaho and that Alaska could avoid a similar dispute.

Hecla disputes the cost of the cleanup in federal court and a ruling has not been handed down.

A spokeswoman for Hecla could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ed Emswiler, DEC environmental specialist, said the mine is projected to be in operation for 17 years. Emswiler said the areas that were excluded from the waste permit had no evidence of producing acid mine drainage.

If the environmental groups are not granted a hearing on the waste permit by the department they can appeal the issue to state Superior Court, Waldo said.

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