A first-in-Alaska federal environmental crimes trial over a mining operation is set to begin this month in Anchorage with a single defendant.
Two other managers with XS Platinum Inc. already have pleaded guilty — one earlier this month — which opens the possibility they might testify at the trial of Canadian James Slade.
Yet those at the top of the company have yet to answer charges that the effort to restart an old mine near the Southwest Alaska community of Platinum went terribly wrong. The Australians who led XS Platinum have not shown up in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, and prosecutors have been unable to find remnants of the company itself.
In all, five officials or managers were charged with felonies as was XS Platinum. The case is the first federal prosecution in Alaska related to mining under the Clean Water Act.
The focus now is on Slade, who is arguing in court that the government knew what the platinum miners were up to all along. His trial is set to begin Sept. 21 with jury selection and is expected to last about two weeks.
Slade, a contractor from Calgary who served as Platinum’s chief operating officer, is accused of six felony charges including conspiracy, violations of the Clean Water Act, and submission of a false report. Prosecutors describe him as the senior on-site corporate representative for most of the 2010 and 2011 mining seasons, when clear Alaska salmon streams near Platinum Creek Mine at the edge of Kuskokwim Bay turned muddy brown with wastewater from the project, according to the indictment against him.
Slade is trying to mount a “public authority defense,” arguing that an official of the Bureau of Land Management allowed XS Platinum to continue its mining work even though it was generating water pollution. Prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason to forbid that strategy, saying it is typically used when defendants mistakenly believe they are acting on behalf of law enforcement, like in an undercover drug investigation.
The defense says Slade and XS Platinum had a “cooperative working relationship” with BLM during the two-year period covered by the indictment.
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