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Assembly takes first look at AJ Mine report

Posted: May 16, 2011 - 10:03pm  |  Updated: May 17, 2011 - 10:47am

The AJ Mine Advisory Committee handed off its report to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Monday, recommending the city keep the public informed and to tread slowly.

Rorie Watt, city engineer who served as a liaison to the committee, told the Assembly Committee of the Whole of one particular comment from a cautious citizen: keep the same detailed, slow, informative process throughout.

“It would be fair to say the AJ has a lot of baggage,” Watt said. “There were events that happened 20 years ago that didn’t go well for the city, didn’t go well for Echo Bay, didn’t go well for the public. The key to that is carefully talking about and understanding the water system.”

Watt urged the Assembly to not proceed so fast the public doesn’t have a chance to understand the issues and to give them the resources to understand the “nitty gritty details.”

The committee’s task was to determine under what circumstances, if any, the city should promote development of the AJ Mine.

Mine committee chairwoman Donna Pierce told the Assembly the 45-page report based the circumstances the city should consider reopening the mine on the Small Mine Concept study. Pierce said some Echo Bay employees drafted the study years ago, which committee member Sam Smith had worked on. Pierce said the committees recommendations center around that kind of concept — not the initial large proposal by Echo Bay.

“That study allowed us to understand with some specificity, what a mine like that would be,” Pierce said. “We developed conditions or circumstances a majority of the committee felt were appropriate for a project going forward.”

Pierce and Watt went through the report and each of the 14 circumstances.

Assembly members’ questions centered around circumstances dealing with water. The questions were to clarify how much water the mill would use (unknown), who owns the top land (multiple entities) and treatment options.

Pierce and Watt closed with giving the Assembly recommendations for moving forward, which centered on caution and avoiding the divisiveness of the process 20 years ago.

The first step in the process would to be to plan out more COW meetings to have as many assembly members as possible delve into the details and know the issues inside and out.

Watt is also taking initiative to get as much information to the public as possible, in working with the committee website and scheduling public information meetings for people to learn more about the mine itself.

“While there are differences of opinion in this report, there’s a lot of common ground in the report. All of these conditions were developed corroboratively. I think it’s possible to build from. On our water system, this was certainly the area of biggest concern. You need to ensure citizens have confidence the water system is safe. The debate is really on the ways and means to do that. If we keep focusing on what we agree on, there is a lot of common ground that can be built on. I think it’s important the Assembly understand what its bottom line requirements are before you go for an RFP (Request for Proposal).”

She said they need to pinpoint what areas they would not want to proceed on before that happens.

Pierce also said the committee wants to see the Assembly move forward with the significant majority in agreement on issues. The committee felt that a 5-4 split would not be a significant enough majority.

Pierce said another comment from the committee is to not get too restrictive.

“Finding that balance is going to be a challenge,” she said. “Understand what your bottom line requirements are, but you want to be as least proscriptive you can to allow the mining company to come up with its own solutions. Leasing also could be a place where you could offer incentives, things that might attract a mining company. Another thing to keep in mind that we heard a lot about (is that the) city has a dual role as an owner and regulator. You have the opportunity to use ownership to address all of the issues we have identified. It is important the Assembly clarify its dual role and articulate for the public how the assembly with use it. I personally don’t believe at all there is a conflict of interest. There is concern about conditions changing over time.”

Watt agreed, saying it is important for people to understand that it’s a good thing the mine is owned by the city, because that is where it will have the largest control.

Watt said the process for any mine to come in would be slow, if the city garners any interest.

“If any sellable ore came out of the mine in 10 years, I’d fall over in surprise if it came out that fast,” Watt said.

Assemblyman Bob Doll asked if any company in the past 10 years or so has expressed interest.

Pierce said one approached the mayor and deputy mayor in January.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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