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By The Associated Press
The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Steller Sea lion finding good news for Kensington gold mine near Juneau


Last updated 3/27/2005 at Noon

The proposed Kensington gold mine near Juneau would disrupt Steller sea lion populations but wouldn't jeopardize the species, federal regulators said in a late March finding.

The decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service bodes well for Coeur Alaska's proposed Kensington gold mining operation, which wants to use Berners Bay as a transportation corridor for its workers and materials. The finding allows other agencies to complete their permits for the mine.

The finding that the mine won't threaten the existence of federally protected species in Alaska prevents the marine fisheries service from enforcing its stringent requirements on the mine to limit disruptions to the marine mammals.

"You really would have to prove that a species will face an increased risk of extinction," said federal biologist Aleria Jensen, who was in charge of developing the agency's biological opinion.

Other regulatory agencies stalled their permits for the mine this winter while the agency prepared the 166-page opinion.

"The key conclusion is no jeopardy" to the marine mammals, said Luke Russell, an environmental official for Coeur Alaska's Idaho-based parent company, Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.

Still, the agency is trying to persuade Coeur Alaska and other regulatory agencies to reconsider locating proposed docks and ferry traffic outside of Berners Bay to prevent disruptions to sea lions, whales and their prey, herring and hooligan.

The agency cited possible harm such as nutritional stress, collisions, noise and oil pollution.

The mine could disrupt the unique feeding activities of sea lions in Berners Bay, Jensen said. The sea lions gather up in long lines like football players and chase their prey from one side of the bay to the other.

Jensen said her agency does agree with many measures Coeur Alaska has proposed to reduce its effects on the bay.


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