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Kensington gold mine operator to pay $170,000 federal fine

The operator of the Kensington gold mine near Juneau has agreed to pay a $170,000 fine for unauthorized pollution from a construction site, federal regulators announced Wednesday.

While building the mine, Coeur Alaska Inc. discharged sediment and acidic stormwater into a nearby lake and creek. The discharges happened between 2006 and 2010, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Coeur spokesman Tony Ebersole said Wednesday that the company, which began producing gold this year, doesn't think a $170,000 fine is warranted but paying the penalty was the best way to address the EPA's concerns.

The company could have paid a lot more. With a maximum penalty for a violation of this kind is $16,000 per day, per violation, the fine could have totaled millions of dollars.

The polluted water became acidic after it was exposed to acid-producing rock that the company excavated while it was building a dam at the mine site. Acidic water can cause metals to leach out of rock, potentially harming fish and wildlife.

Coeur knew about the discharges in 2007, but state and federal regulators didn't find out until 2008, according to the EPA.

Since then, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation allowed the mine to treat the wastewater and discharge it onto drainage fields upstream of Lower Slate Lake, where the company puts its tailings.

The EPA said the fine is its second Clean Water Act enforcement action against the Kensington Mine. In 2006 the company paid $18,334 for stormwater violations that were also related to construction.

The Kensington mine is expected to produce about 120,000 ounces of gold annually for about 12 years. At today's prices, production would be worth about $160 million a year.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.

By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK

ebluemink@adn.com

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