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Extraction begins at gold mine

CdA company project is north of Juneau

After two decades of permitting battles, Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. has begun extracting gold from its Kensington Mine in Alaska.

Nearly 200 people work at the underground gold mine, located about 45 air miles north of Juneau. Coeur d’Alene d’Alene Mines spent about $400 million developing the mine, which opened last week.

Over the next 12 ½ years, the Kensington Mine will produce about 125,000 ounces of gold annually, according to company estimates. At current prices, the gold would be worth more than $1.56 billion.

“This project’s going to have a great ripple effect throughout southeast Alaska’s economy,” said Tony Ebersole, company spokesman.

But the Kensington Mine has also weathered its controversy. Coeur d’Alene Mines bought the gold property in the late 1980s, but ran into opposition over plans for disposing of the tailings – the waste rock leftover after mining.

Plans to dispose of the tailings in a 20-acre natural lake on the Tongass National Forest drew legal challenges from environmental groups. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal permit allowing the company to release its tailings into Lower Slate Lake, even though the tailings will kill the lake’s fish population. Coeur d’Alene Mines will restock the lake after the gold extraction ceases, officials said.

Alaska Native corporations are longtime supporters of the Kensington Mine. Alaska Natives or subcontractors for native corporations constitute about 35 percent of the mine’s work force.

Over the years, company officials have worked closely with the Berners Bay Consortium, made up of Klukwan, Kake Tribal and Goldbelt Native corporations, on job training and hiring efforts.