Saturday, December 1, 2007

Alaska Mine tells villagers: "we can't stop discharging (tailings waste) unless it stops raining." - requests new discharge permit from EPA

Kivalina, Alaska - It's the most successful major mining operation in Alaska. The Red Dog Zinc Mine north of Kotzebue is seeing unprecedented revenue, while its partner, NANA Regional Native Corp., is sharing in the success.

But one community in the region remains unsatisfied and is suing the mine.

Looking north from the village of Kivalina, one sees foothills of the Delong Mountains in the distance.

Deep in those mountains, about 50 miles from the village, lies the Red Dog Mine.

Red Dog is seeing a banner year. The operation has posted record production numbers - 1.2 million metric tons of zinc and lead concentrate - and record profits. The company overseeing Red Dog reported $645 million in profit for the first nine months of this year.

NANA Regional Corp. received a reported $155 million in royalties this year, 62 percent of which is shared with other corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or ANCSA.

"Every shareholder that's a shareholder of an ANCSA Corporation or a village corporation is seeing a benefit from Red Dog," said Rosie Barr with NANA's Lands and Natural Resources Dept.

But there's another element of the story.

The mine discharges water into Red Dog Creek, which flows into the Wulik River. The river flows into the sea in Kivalina.

For the last several years the mine has been unable to meet the requirements of its water quality permit.

"I have no choice. I just have to believe them that the fish are good to eat," Kivalina resident Joe Swan Sr. said. "I hope so because I'm eating them."

Swan is one of a small group of Kivalina residents now suing Tech Cominco Ltd., which operates Red Dog Mine, demanding that the company comply with its permit and pay fines for violations.

Red Dog officials say the mine is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to get a new permit that would allow more discharges.


"All of the heavy metals up there - you stirred it up. It may have been in the water before but it never created a problem for us," Kivalina tribal administrator Colleen Swan said. "Now it's in the air, on the vegetation, we have it wherever our subsistence foods come from."

"As I've told you folks here in the past, we can't stop discharging unless it stops raining," Kuals said. "Until that happens we must discharge water or that dam will fill up and overtop and nobody wants that to happen."

Lead can have damaging effects on children, according to health experts and community leaders here.

"Every indication says lead levels are safe and not harmful including for children," Kuals said.

Tech Cominco plans to finish mining the original Red Dog ore deposit in 2010.

It's hoping to expand into a new deposit that could prolong the mine's life another 20 years.

Kivalina's residents aren't sure they can stomach it.

"We've been to the EPA. We've been to the state from the beginning," Kivalina resident Enoch Adams said. "We've gone to Red Dog, told them our concerns, and we've said these things for years and finding that nothing is being done."

The EPA is currently doing an environmental impact statement on Red Dog's expansion plan.

That environmental study will also consider the mine's request for a permit that allows more discharges into Red Dog Creek.

Here is the full article.