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Mine operator guilty of misdemeanors for polluting Southwest Alaska river

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 7, 2015

A Southwest Alaska mine operator from Canada was convicted of two misdemeanor violations of the federal Clean Water Act on Wednesday in Anchorage for allowing muddy water to seep into a salmon stream over the course of two mining seasons.

The government charged James Slade -- a mining consultant from Calgary, Alberta, who became chief operating officer for XS Platinum Inc. in 2010 -- with six felonies. The charges included conspiracy, various violations of the Clean Water Act and submission of a false report.

Jurors could have found that Slade violated the regulations knowingly or negligently. They decided Slade's actions were irresponsible but could not reach a unanimous decision about whether he knew he was breaking the law on two of the charges. What could have been felony convictions were instead found to be misdemeanors.

The jury deliberated for two days, finding Slade not guilty of half of his alleged crimes. The government will decide next week whether or not to retry Slade for three charges on which jurors were deadlocked, said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis.

Federal prosecutors alleged XS Platinum Inc. and its executives and on-site managers violated clean water regulations when they intensified efforts to recover platinum from an old mine on the edge of Kuskokwim Bay during their 2010 and 2011 mining seasons. The operation allowed dirty water stored in a pond to enter the Salmon River, they said.

Ultimately, Slade was convicted of polluting the Salmon River with turbid wastewater from Platinum Creek Mine, which he was in charge of operating, Feldis said. Evidence at the trial showed that muddy water seeping from the pond was hundreds of times over the limit set in the water quality permit issued to the mine, the prosecutor said.

"The evidence at trial was strong. The jury paid close attention and (Slade) stands convicted of two criminal offenses," Feldis said.

Reached by phone Wednesday night, defense attorney John Irving said, "This is a complicated case in a number of ways, but we appreciate the jury's careful consideration of the matter and respect its decision."

Feldis agreed the case was complex, evidenced by the two weeks of attorneys meticulously combing over turbidity reports and company emails, viewing videos and photos of the site and questioning dozens of witnesses.

Agencies tasked with approving and permitting mining in Alaska rely on operators to self-report when they violate the law. That didn't happen in the case of XS Platinum, Feldis said.

"The mine said it was going to do one thing and did something very different. They did not follow the mine plan they submitted," he said.

Slade is the third defendant tied to the company to be convicted. He faces up to a year in prison and $100,000 in fines for each misdemeanor.

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