Decision on Greens Creek tailings facility released
September 06, 2013
Greens Creek Mine, owned by Hecla Mining, started production in 1989 and today is Juneau’s largest private sector employer. It produced over six million ounces of silver in 2012 and is projected to do so again in 2013. It is one of the world’s largest silver mines and produces gold, lead and zinc in important quantities as well.
One of the largest private employers in Southeast Alaska, Greens Creek Mine is responsible for approximately 330 permanent, full-time jobs. The mining company has estimated that, without the expansion, it would have to close operations in 2019, before it is able to mine its known reserves.
In today's decision, Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole announced the selection of a modified Alternative D from the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), with those modifications described in the Record of Decision (ROD). The primary modification is not to authorize construction of a second tailings disposal facility in the Fowler Creek watershed as described in Alternatives C and D of the Final EIS.
Alternative D Modified, the Selected Alternative, authorizes GCM to expand the existing tailings disposal facility by about 18 acres, further south into Admiralty Island National Monument. An additional eight acres is authorized to be developed outside of the monument for rock quarry and reclamation material storage sites and for expanding an existing water management pond.
Hecla Greens Creek Mining Company will expand the capacity of the facility by about 2.1 million cubic yards. At the expected rate of fill, the ability of the facility to accept additional tailings will be extended by approximately ten years. No tailings will be deposited in any channeled sections of Tributary Creek.
Although the particulars of the Selected Alternative apply to this Decision, other action alternatives outlined in the Final EIS could, at a later time, be reconsidered through future analyses.
In 2010, GCM proposed to expand its tailings area 116 acres into ANM. Its proposal would have resulted in permanent loss of 1,646 feet of salmon stream habitat.
Under the provisions of the 1872 Mining Law, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), and the Greens Creek Land Exchange Act of 1995, Hecla Greens Creek Mining Company has the right to mine, explore, and locate minerals in the national monument.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich commented on the Record of Decision signed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) regarding the permit for the expansion of the tailings disposal area for the Greens Creek Mine near Juneau.
"Since the permitting process began in 2010, I have repeatedly explained to the leadership of the USFS and USDA the Greens Creek Mine’s solid track record and economic importance to Northern Southeast Alaska. Today’s decision provides some mid-term relief, but falls short of satisfying me or the mine operators or its 400 employees," said Begich.
“The final EIS has been delayed over the past year, and an expanded area must be ready soon. The alternative, as the company recently noted, is a shutdown of mine operations. While I am disappointed in the outcome and the length of time it took to get here, USFS has been a good partner in helping to corral other federal agencies and keep the mine alive," said Begich.
Begich said, “Moving forward, we have to resolve the bonding requirements for this mine. While I support strong bonding requirements to protect Southeast Alaskans and the subsistence resources of the area, the bonding demands by some federal agencies unnecessarily endanger this mine. This issue has to be resolved, and it can be done in a way that protects future water quality while keeping economic production going.”
Sen. Begich spoke with then U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Harris Sherman in August 2012 when the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the tailings expansion project was first delayed. Since then he has communicated with USDA and USFS staff about permit process, including a letter in July 2013 to Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and briefly held USDA Undersecretary Nominee Robert Bonnie’s confirmation until the two could meet and exchange views on important Alaska issues such as the Greens Creek Mine and the Roadless Rule.
Admiralty Island National Monument (ANM) was created December 1, 1978, and covers 955,747 acres of Tongass National Forest in the Panhandle of southeast Alaska.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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