Hecla Greens Creek Mine plans expansion of Admiralty Island tailings storage

To trucks wait to enter a tunnel
Anundated photo of a portal at Hecla Greens Creek Mine about 18 miles southwest of Juneau. (Photo courtesy of Hecla Mining Company)

Hecla Greens Creek Mine plans to expand its waste storage capacity on Admiralty Island. That’s to keep the silver, gold and zinc mine open past 2031, according to filings with the U.S. Forest Service.

Friday, October 9 begins a 45-day period in which the public can examine and comment on the company’s plans to expand its tailings and waste rock storage by about 5 million cubic yards: or about 1,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

A pair of virtual meetings are scheduled later this month on the proposal. There will be an opportunity to ask questions.

The mine’s expansion will require federal, state and local permits to expand on public land leased in Tongass National Forest. The company reports producing nearly 9.9 million ounces of silver last year making it the largest silver producer in the country.

Tongass National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart released a statement on Friday underscoring the mine’s economic importance to the region while giving assurances the proposal would be vetted by the agency.

“The Forest Service recognizes the importance of mineral resources to the well-being of the nation and encourage bona-fide mineral exploration and development as part of our multiple-use mandate,” Stewart wrote. “At the same time, our experts work toward minimizing the impacts of mining activities on other forest resources by working closely with the state and other federal agencies to ensure that measures are in place to protect water quality and nearby aquatic habitats.”

Hecla Greens Creek is one of the largest private-sector employers in Southeast Alaska with around 400 employees and a payroll in excess of $50 million. Its last tailings facility expansion was approved in 2014.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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