Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
“Today gold hit another record: $1,308,” Coeur d’Alene Mines President and CEO Dennis Wheeler said, while celebrating Kensington Gold Mine operations.
The mine opened June 24, about 22 years after Wheeler first visited the capital city looking for project support. At a Centennial Hall gathering on Tuesday night, Wheeler thanked the businesses, government officials, Native groups and a long list of individuals and other organizations for that support.
Several hundred people crowded the hall where pictures rotated of the Kensington site and operations.
Wheeler told the crowd that former state Natural Resources Commissioner John Shively – long involved in mining – once told him a mine in Alaska needs to earn a “social license” – that is, local community respect and support.
“In Alaska, this respect and support is harder to earn and takes on greater importance,” Wheeler said.
According to Wheeler, Coeur has invested more than $400 million in the mine, which is about 45 miles northwest of Juneau in Berners Bay.
“We’re going to have 200 jobs at an estimated annual salary of $80,000 and benefits. It’s going to provide millions of dollars to our government units in property and sales tax and we plan to spend every penny we can, which probably will be about $9.5 million a year for local goods and services,” Wheeler said.
At an initial production rate of 125,000 ounces a year, Wheeler says Kensington will increase Coeur’s gold level by 135 percent.
Mining started just a year after a U. S. Supreme Court decision allowed the Kensington’s tailings deposit plan to go forward. The high court reversed a 2007 Ninth Circuit ruling that depositing mine waste into a fresh water lake at the site violated the Clean Water Act.
The Supreme Court decision came down in June 2009. Two months later the company had its remaining federal permits. At that point managers pledged to be in production by fall – but beat that by a couple of months.
Most of the work force comes from Southeast Alaska, and more than 40 percent is Alaska Native, trained at a University of Alaska Southeast mining program.
Earlier this week, Wheeler and Kensington managers took Coeur’s board of directors, government officials, supporters and reporters to the mine.
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