A federal judge on Thursday sentenced the operator of a platinum mine that discharged pollutants into a salmon-spawning river in Southwest Alaska to a year in prison and, following that, a year of supervised release.
The sentencing is part of the first federal case in Alaska charging a mining company and its key operators with criminal violations of the Clean Water Act.
James Slade, a Canadian resident who in 2010 and 2011 was chief operating officer of XS Platinum Inc., an Australian-led company, can spend the second year of his punishment — the supervised release — in Canada, said U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason.
Gleason’s decision came after a sentencing hearing lasting almost four hours, and capped months of dispute between federal prosecutors and defendants in a major pollution case that has ensnared two other participants in the operation. The Australians who led the company, Bruce Butcher and Mark Balfour, have not responded to charges brought against them and have not been subject to extradition. The company appears to be defunct, prosecutors said.
At its Platinum Creek Mine near Kuskokwim Bay, XS Platinum processed platinum from old tailings along the Salmon River, in what should have been a cleanup of miles of old mining waste.
The defense argued that Slade could not get his Australian supervisors to send a key piece of equipment that would have stopped the mine from discharging wastewater into the river.
But Gleason said Slade could have walked away when he saw that the mine was polluting the river with excess turbidity that was “off the charts” and out of compliance with its permit and the law.
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