U.S. Forest Service, Coeur Mining officials discuss mine expansion plans in Haines

The Kensington gold mine south of Haines applied to the U.S. Forest Service for a permit to expand operations and extend the life of the mine by a decade. Public comment in Haines is part of the process.

About a dozen Coeur Alaska employees brought maps and materials to the Haines Borough Public Library on Wednesday evening. They were available for three hours to residents curious about their plans to expand tailings facilities and waste rock disposal.

A handful of residents turned out to look at the maps and ask questions.

The Kensington mine is in the City and Borough of Juneau, but it’s only 35 miles south of Haines on the Lynn Canal. Coeur Alaska’s Mark Kiessling said it’s worth the trip.

“Haines is very close to Kensington,” he said. “And so we feel like it’s an important community to come and talk to the folks and and make sure that they understand what we’re doing.”

Kiessling is the general manager of the Kensington mine. His plan is to make space for more mine waste so operations can continue until 2033.

Thirteen of his employees live here in Haines. He sees another decade of mine life as a win for the community and the region.

“Extending mine life definitely keeps folks employed and it definitely extends the employment time for those folks. And also helps with the impacts on the local  economies. Not only our direct employees, but we support many businesses all over Southeast Alaska,” he said.

The comment period isn’t so much about jobs however. It’s about environmental concerns. Matt Reece, the minerals programs manager for the Tongass National Forest for the U.S. Forest Service, was on hand to explain.

“So really what the what the whole idea behind the NEPA process is, is it’s really about disclosing impacts to the environment,” he said.

NEPA is the the National Environmental Policy Act. Since Kensington mine is on National Forest land, any expansion must go through a NEPA review.

This is the first 45-day public comment period.

“The big thing we’re looking for is any issues or concerns the public has over what has been proposed. Just trying to come up with things we’ve missed or special concerns that folks have,” said Reece.

U.S. Forest Service will use the comments to decide if they want to come up with alternatives to Coeur Alaska’s proposed plan. Then all of the options will get looked at by specialists, like hydrologists and fishery and wildlife biologists. Finally, it all goes back to the public for another comment session before the agency makes a decision.

The idea is to make sure the public knows what’s happening on public land.

“So we’re in the very initial part of the process,” Reece said.

Regional environmental groups have voiced concerns about the mine in the past. Just this year Coeur was fined over half a million dollars for environmental violations at the Kensington mine. But no strong opposition from local conservation groups was apparent at the meeting.

Five people had commented on the project by deadline. The comment period is open until Nov. 7.

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