Defendant testifies in environmental crimes trial over platinum mine – by Lisa Demer (Alaska Dispatch News – October 2, 2015)

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A mine operator on trial over pollution at a Southwestern Alaska platinum mine told a federal jury Friday in Anchorage he knew of muddy wastewater that turned the Salmon River dirty brown. But though he was the on-site boss and designed the mine operation, James Slade testified he never alerted regulators of the problems because, he said, that wasn’t within his authority.

Instead, even when the turbidity of the discharges was hundreds of times greater than allowed under Platinum Creek Mine’s general permit in 2011, Slade emailed company executives the mine would “continue to produce 24/7 until the wheels fall off.” That acknowledgement by Slade provided a punch at the end of cross examination by assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis.

Slade, a mining consultant from Calgary, Alberta who became chief operating officer for XS Platinum Inc., is accused of six felony charges including conspiracy, various violations of the federal Clean Water Act, and submission of a false report. His testimony in U.S. District Court took up most of Friday, the 10th day of a trial during which prosecutors have called more than 25 witnesses and presented hundreds of exhibits. Slade, who began working for the mine owners in 2010 and stayed through 2011, was the sole defense witness.

He said he was thrilled when he was recruited to work on resurrecting the old platinum mine in one of Alaska’s historic mining areas. The new team inherited piles of sediment and waste materials dredged from earlier operations.

“We were looking at this as a multiyear reclamation project,” Slade told jurors, speaking in a clear, calm voice over hours on the stand. “We had designs to put the whole river back the way it was.”

Of the other four men charged in the environmental crimes case, two have pleaded guilty and testified against Slade. But the Australian lawyers who led XS Platinum – Bruce Butcher and Mark Balfour — have refused to come to the United States to face charges. Slade said Balfour was ultimately responsible for environmental compliance and that XS Platinum also relied on an environmental consultant later replaced with a company employee to save money.

By the time more than two dozen federal and state authorities descended on the operation in August 2011, the operation was crumbling financially, Slade told jurors.

By that November, Butcher, CEO and president of XS Platinum, had cleared out his Seattle headquarters office and erased his emails, Slade told jurors.

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