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

Native leaders keep wary eye on Juneau gold mine dispute because of Pebble


Last updated 6/25/2006 at Noon

Bristol Bay tribal leaders are tracking a dispute over where to dump waste from a gold mine in Southeast Alaska, fearing the outcome will set a precedent that could harm the rivers they fish.

Seven Alaska Native village corporations have signed a resolution supporting the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, one of three environmental groups who sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over permits issued to the Kensington gold mine, which is slated to begin operations in late 2007.

The environmental groups claim the corps' permission to Coeur Alaska Inc. to dump the chemical waste, or tailings, from the mining operations into a freshwater lake north of Juneau violates the federal Clean Water Act.

A decision in the lawsuit is expected soon by U.S. District Judge James Singleton.

The Bristol Bay village leaders suspect that if the Coeur D'Alene Mines Corp. subsidiary proceeds with its plan, Northern Dynasty Mines Inc. will also try to dump the tailings from its Pebble mine development into the rivers between Iliamna Lake and Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska.

Pebble Partnership copper gold molybdenum mine project Alaska Northern Dynasty NAK NDM

"There is a connection between the Kensington Mine and also the potential plans of Northern Dynasty dumping their waste materials into the surrounding lakes and rivers," said Bobby Andrew, president of Aleknagik Natives Ltd., the Native corporation for the village of Aleknagik, population 240. "It'll set a precedent, although there are two different types of mines here."

The Pebble mine, which is still being studied for its feasibility and would not be operational before 2011, would capture the huge gold and copper deposits northwest of Iliamna Lake.

Between the lake and Bristol Bay, North America's premiere salmon commercial fishing waters, is a network of rivers upon which a half-dozen Yu'pik Eskimo villages rely for fish.

The Native corporations representing the villages fear the waste from the Pebble mine will contain cyanide which, if introduced into the waterways, will hurt wildlife populations.

"The water quality will deteriorate for our fish in that area," Andrew said.

Northern Dynasty Mines has not said definitively where or how it plans to dump its tailings. Northern Dynasty's chief operating officer, Bruce Jenkins, did not return calls from The Associated Press for comment.


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