OK, maybe you’ve seen the news. The Kensington Gold Mine expansion has been approved. It’s a mixed bag. Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart has signed the Final Record of Decision for the Plan of Operations Amendment 1 for Kensington. This is the final administrative step in the NEPA process for a 10-year extension of the mine.
SEACC and our partners — Lynn Canal Conservation, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Center for Biological Diversity, and Alaska Clean Water Advocacy — filed an objection to the Draft Record of Decision on the Kensington Mine expansion in August 2021. We were supported in that objection by Earthjustice.
Our objection led to key monitoring and accountability improvements for the Kensington Mine. SEACC applauds those decisions made by Deputy Regional Forester Chad Van Ormer in his response to the objection and implemented by Stewart in the Final Record of Decision.
For context, Kensington has a long track record of water quality problems, with more than 200 wastewater discharge violations, multiple effluent sampling violations, and unpermitted discharge of acid rock drainage into Lower Slate Lake. As a result, Coeur Alaska was fined over $500,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2019.
Our watchdog work drew critical attention to the need for the Forest Service, in its responsibility as landowner and manager, to implement those monitoring and accountability improvements at Kensington, which include:
- A requirement that Coeur has a third-party consultant conduct an Ecological Risk Assessment, including a comprehensive review of all available environmental baseline data, to evaluate the effects of mine activities on environmental receptors.
- Requirements to update the Freshwater Monitoring Plan (FWMP) based on the findings of the Ecological Risk Assessment and to keep the FWMP updated throughout the life of the project. This will identify and address ongoing negative impacts on water quality and habitat.
- A comprehensive review of inconsistencies between the Best Management Practices site inspections and monthly inspections. Action items generated from Best Management Practices site reviews will now be integrated into regular monthly inspections and tracked until a satisfactory resolution is documented. The Forest Supervisor has also required the Tongass minerals staff to conduct quarterly inspections focused on specific Best Management Practices monitoring.
- Annual reporting has also been improved with action item documentation and targeted inspections until a satisfactory resolution of action items is documented.
SEACC’s work uncovered that Best Management Practices visits to the mine had not been included in preparing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. As a result of SEACC’s efforts, all Best Management Practices reviews will now be included in the project file and be readily available to the public online.
Together, these changes strengthen the Forest Service’s accountability role and will help catch and address problems at the mine while improving the public’s ability to understand project monitoring and impacts.
SEACC continues to object to the use of an Alaskan lake for tailings disposal by CoeurAlaska and the Kensington mine. This Final Record of Decision continues that path, and we strenuously disagree that mine tailings should ever be dumped into Alaskan lakes and streams.
We want to give a big shout-out to all the SEACC supporters who have stepped up to comment on the Kensington EIS process. Your work improved the decisions that were made, defended the waters, and held the Forest Service to a higher standard. You are the reason that accountability matters to agencies like the Forest Service, and your support makes it possible for us to dig in and push successfully for better stewardship, a more open public process, and better monitoring and compliance.
We also want to give a big shout-out to our partners in the objection, Lynn Canal Conservation, Alaska Rainforest Defenders, Center for Biological Diversity, and Alaska Clean Water Advocacy, to the three individuals who filed their own objections, and to Earthjustice, whose support was, as always, invaluable.
Keep the waters clean and the agencies honest!
Aaron Brakel, Inside Passage Waters Program Manager