In a first for Alaska, a mining company and five of its executives have been criminally indicted under the federal Clean Water Act for allegedly dumping toxic waste into the Salmon River in the western part of the state.
Officials at XS Platinum Inc. not only conspired to dump waste from the company’s platinum mine but also created false records to hide the deed, according to the indictment quoted by the Alaska Dispatch. Moreover, the five executives involved knew that polluted water was being discharged from the Platinum Creek Mine, the newspaper and 28-page indictment said, some of it into waters that flow through the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
Five officials and employees are now under felony indictment, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. Two Australians, a Canadian and two from Washington State are due in court on January 21, 2015 to answer charges of “conspiring to violate the federal Clean Water Act and of falsifying compliance reports to the government,” the Alaska Dispatch reported.
The case started in 2011, when Mark Lisac, a fisheries biologist working for the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, discovered murky water that should have been teeming with salmon as he conducted a routine flyover. The 400 photos he took “showed new mining work with turbid ponds, as he describes them, flowing into the river system,” the Alaska Dispatch reported, in an area that XL Platinum had promised to employ a “zero discharge system,” reusing all the mining wastewater.
Platinum Creek Mine had been in operation under various owners since the 1920s. Soon after Lisac filed his 2011 report, the company experienced financial difficulties, and in 2012 Hanson Industries Inc., which had sold the mine to XS Platinum in 2007, foreclosed it and is once again the owner, the Alaska Dispatch said.
According to the DOJ statement, XS Platinum held nearly 200 mining and hard-rock claims over more than 4,000 acres at the mine along the Salmon River and its tributaries. Most of the claims were under jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, but 21 of them fell within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, the Justice Department said. All five Pacific salmon species—chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye—spawn in these waterways, the DOJ said. In addition, coho and sockeye grow up there. After traversing the BLM land and the wildlife refuge, the river empties into the Pacific Ocean at Kuskokwim Bay, the Justice Department noted.
The U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management Office of Law Enforcement and Security along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division are conducting the investigation, the DOJ said. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska, Trial Attorney Todd S. Mikolop of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel Dean Ingemanson are prosecuting.