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Alaska gold mine agrees to pay more than $800,000 for storm runoff

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The remote town of Nome, Alaska, has always depended on mining and has had to put up with the arsenic and mercury contamination that come along with it. But it got to be too much for many Nome residents last year when storm water thick with sediment pulsed into salmon-bearing streams. Now, operators of the Rock Creek Mine have agreed to pay $833,628 in civil penalties.

The fine is one of the biggest ever assessed in the Northwest over Clean Water Act violations, said Rob Grandinetti, compliance officer for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Toxic mine tailings weren’t the issue. It was ordinary silt allowed to wash into creeks as a result of heavy rainfall during construction in 2007 and 2008, hundreds of times above levels permitted under state water quality standards.

‘The construction at Rock Creek Mine resulted in virtually unchecked runoff of silt and sediment to important fish habitat,’ said Michelle Pirzadeh, EPA’s acting regional administrator in Seattle.

Rock Creek Mine, expected to eventually produce 100,000 ounces of gold a year, closed in November when the operator, NovaGold Resources Inc., ran into trouble meeting environmental requirements, among other problems. The company has said it hopes to sell the mine or reopen it in 2010. Alaska’s gold mining industry has boomed under elevated gold prices, but permitting and environmental problems have made the going tough for mine operators.

-- Kim Murphy


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