Mining News: Red Dog discharge lawsuit unsettled
Teck Cominco Aug. 1 filed a motion in a U.S. district court, asking the court to enforce a settlement between the operator of the Red Dog Mine and six residents of Kivalina, a Northwest Alaska village 66 miles, or 106 kilometers, downstream from the mine.
Teck Cominco wants U.S. District Judge John Sedwick to enforce the settlement with changes agreed upon last spring.
Besides an undisclosed cash settlement, Teck had agreed to seek permits to build a 54-mile-long pipeline for discharge of its treated wastewater directly into the ocean.
The company also agreed to provide and maintain water filtration for Kivalina residents while it permits and constructs the proposed $120 million pipeline.
The lawsuit originated when plaintiffs claimed that Teck discharged illegal amounts of total dissolved solids into the Wulik River – the same river Kivalina residents use for drinking water and subsistence fishing. The mine discharges treated wastewater from the mine into Red Dog Creek, which then flows into the Wulik.
The solids at issue are produced by lime, which the mine uses to remove metals from its wastewater. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation studied the effects of the treated water discharged from Red Dog and concluded that it is not harmful.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued Teck Cominco an interim standard for total dissolved solids that meets Alaska’s drinking water standards in 1999, and the mine has operated since in compliance with this less stringent standard. However, the regulator agreement does not protect the company from civil lawsuits.
Sedwick canceled a trial scheduled for May 19 when Teck Cominco entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Kivalina plaintiffs. Both parties had filed a notice in federal court that they had reached a settlement in the multimillion-dollar lawsuit prior to the May trial date.
The lawsuit became “unsettled” when the plaintiffs changed their minds about a clause that would prevent them from filing future lawsuits involving violations of the mine’s water pollution permit. The plaintiffs have given Teck three options: Remove the clause, pay additional money, or go to trial.
The plaintiffs’ attorney Luke Cole of the San Francisco-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment also represents residents of Kivalina in a lawsuit against 24 major energy companies. The idea of suing the oil giants began when Cole visited Kivalina to speak with his clients about the lawsuit against operators of the Red Dog Mine, he said.