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Mining ordinance: Don’t re-open this can of worms

The Juneau Assembly is talking about the AJ Mine again. It is shocking that, after all of the community effort on the mining ordinance and the AJ Mine between 1989 and 2011, a small special interest group is proposing to gut the ordinance. Please join me in urging the assembly to abandon this proposal and to keep the current mining ordinance in place.

 

In a memo to the Deputy Mayor of June 9 regarding the Mining Ordinance &AJ Mine Update, Rorie Watt has it right when he says, “Reopening the AJ is one of the touchiest of Juneau topics. Success in discussing this topic requires special handling, patience, substantial public communication, and durable decision making.”

Reviewing my files recently, I recalled the amount of community effort invested into the current mining ordinance, when the Assembly decided in 1989 on a 5-2 vote that the city’s mining ordinance needed no revision. Public outcry was huge. A week later, the assembly reversed its decision.

Alaskans for Juneau, a non-profit citizens’ group, formed shortly thereafter as a grassroots response to Echo Bay’s exploration efforts in the AJ mine. This group sought to educate citizens and leaders as to the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of a gold mine on our town.

The Thane Neighborhood Association also formed, in part as a response to Echo Bay’s plan to dam Sheep Creek valley and dump tailings into the resulting sludge pond.The members of this group were quite diverse; most were concerned about how mining might impact their neighborhood.

Educating ourselves and our community about gold mining and potential impacts on our environment and our drinking water involved thousands of hours of library research, interviews, phone calls, newsletter publications, and large public information meetings with slides, videos, and speakers.

As Echo Bay proceeded with explorations, Juneauites participated in a review of the previous mining ordinance, noting the connection between Gold Creek’s surface waters and the city’s drinking water wells. A diesel spill by Echo Bay into Gold Creek in August 1990 underscored the community’s reasons for concern.

Analyses of AJ Preliminary Draft EIS and publication of government agency comments were followed by a second AJ Draft EIS released in February 1991. Two studies were commissioned by the CBJ: a review of city’s environmental concerns by Wright Engineers of Vancouver, BC and a Draft Socio-Economic Impact Assessment. Numerous public comment sessions followed.

In March, 1991, analyses of the DEIS to the Borough of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency disclosed possible discrepancies in statements regarding socio-economics, competition with the city over water supply, wildlife impacts, tourism, tailings dam integrity, Sheep Creek salmon fishery, air quality, noise, and solid waste disposal. Hearings continued through 1991, with various meetings involving city, state, and federal government agencies, as well as grassroots volunteer organizations.

The city planning commission, in response to requests from the public, planned weekly noon hearings with sign-ups in advance. These hearings included presentations by city staff and members of public. Town meetings occurred, as well as a conference focusing on the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of gold mining.

The above public process, involving countless hours of time on the parts of volunteers, specialists, city staff, and elected officials, was only the beginning. Eventually, a mining attorney was hired to work with Ethel Lund’s famously qualified committee of citizens and the now-current mining ordinance was drafted, revised, and adopted unanimously.

Mr. Watt’s letter to the Deputy Manager describes further public consideration of mining in Juneau in 2003 and 2010-11, following the intense work and hugely divisive social climate generated in the 1990s. Some great minds have carefully considered how to balance community protection and resource extraction in Juneau. It is not necessary to re-open this can of worms.

Contrary to the proponents of the revision, the ordinance is not duplicative of state and federal permitting for the AJ Mine because it is located on private property. Only three permits might possibly be required by outside agencies. The Army Corps of Engineers would require a wetlands permit if a mine were to fill wetlands or tidal areas. State air and water discharges would be regulated by the state, if a pipe were to discharge either. The State might require a company to apply for a Solid Waste Permit if surface waste disposal were planned. Otherwise, no further permits would be required.

It is in the interest of the City and Borough of Juneau to have the capacity to protect our physical and human environment from negative impacts of mining and that is why the ordinance was originally adopted. By agreeing to the changes proposed by the group approaching the assembly, the CBJ will forfeit these rights. The proposal will not benefit the citizens of Juneau. I hope other Juneau residents will speak up, asking the assembly to turn down this proposal.

 


 

• Luann McVey is a resident of Douglas.

 


 

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