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AJ Mine Committee report sent with more than just signatures

Individual reports range from cautioning restrictions to raising water concerns

Posted: May 17, 2011 - 7:42pm  |  Updated: May 18, 2011 - 6:31am

The AJ Mine Advisory Committee Report was signed and delivered to the Assembly this week — with a couple notations on the signature page and individual member comments.

In the last few meetings of the committee, which met seven times, some members indicated they would not sign the report and, at its final meeting, those members said they changed their minds.

While all seven members signed the report, two added more than their names to the line. Gregg Erickson wrote (dissent) next his signature and Laurie Ferguson Craig wrote “I oppose development of the AJ Mine.”

While the nuts and bolts of the report were developed collaboratively and approved by majority votes, members also had the opportunity to go beyond the agreed-upon circumstances in which the city should promote development of the AJ.

Erickson dissented not because he opposes reopening the mine, but because of water and city partnership concerns.

Erickson said if the city wishes to pursue the mine, and he believes it should, they need to do two things:

• “Send the right signal to potential developers that the Assembly is ready and able to be a long-term supportive partner in AJ development.”

• “Set aside the fierce opposition of many Juneau voters who deeply fear for the security of our water.”

He said to achieve that, the city needs to develop an alternative water supply regardless of the AJ. Erickson said if an alternative water supply plan is carefully drafted, there could be state funds available for the project.

Erickson’s report also addressed economic points, urging the city to diversify its unbalanced economy.

“Too many Alaska communities are dysfunctional,” he wrote. “Not so in Juneau. In the last 20 years our unified local government has become more efficient, more transparent and strengthened its finances. We managed this in the face of deep divisions over the first AJ Mine development effort, and the ongoing dispute over ‘the road.’”

Craig’s response noted there are “some reasonable guidelines in the report, but they are inadequate to protect the city’s most vital resource: its drinking water supply in Last Chance Basin.”

She believes without a fully functioning alternate water supply, the city should not allow mining to occur. Craig cited Echo Bay’s attempt at reopening the mine in the 1990s, during which many violations were investigated, including some by the FBI.

Craig pointed out the federal government was responsible for environmental reviews of the 1990s project under the National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That no longer stands true today for this type of mine and the NEPA process isn’t mandated by state law.

Craig said she was reluctant to serve on the committee because of the divisiveness of the last proposal and said she was the coordinator for Alaskans for Juneau.

“People fear a new AJ will again split our citizenry into pro-mine and anti-mine factions, pit neighbor against neighbor, and tear the community apart,” she wrote.

Craig said the overriding concern is about the water, and while those issues are being studied the she recommended the city maintain existing mine tunnels, water quality and quantity regardless of development.

Committee members Donna Pierce, Kurt Fredriksson and Maria Gladziszewski wrote a combined response, saying the alternative water supply recommendation is premature.

They agreed that the “protection of the Gold Creek (Last Chance Basin) water system is the highest priority.” However they said it’s premature to conclude that a fully functional alternative water supply is necessary.

“The committee’s very preliminary examination of the AJ mine was not an in-depth comprehensive review of possible impacts to Gold Creek and did not provide the committee or the community with sufficient information to justify the need for construction of an alternate water supply,” they wrote. “Simply stated, we do not fully understand risks facing the Gold Creek water supply with or without a mine, and have nothing to show that constructing a new separate water system is the only workable solution or the best solution.”

Members Frank Bergstrom and Sam Smith, who used to work with Echo Bay, focused their comments more on the development side of the “circumstances the city should promote development of the AJ Mine.”

Smith said the Assembly should “make all reasonable efforts to attract mining companies to make the major investment necessary to reopen the AJ Mine.”
“It is my opinion that the mine can be reopened in a responsible manner without endangering the city’s water supply or causing serious harm to the values that Juneau citizens hold dearly,” he wrote.

Smith outlined six areas that are critical to reopening the mine, including not overburdening investors with overlapping permitting issues, mining company proposed water quality measures, a land package deal, mining company tailings disposal plan, qualified investor access to the ore reserve with confidentiality agreements, and the city’s right to negotiate with any or none of the proposers.

Smith acknowledged city water sources have vulnerabilities without a mine, and felt the city should prepare engineering designs for system improvements to increase reliability — before operating leases are negotiated.

“Keeping the above recommendations in mind, it is my opinion that the risk of a major failure of the Gold Creek water system, caused by mine activity, is extremely slight,” he wrote. “There could be minor turbidity events caused by mining activity, but such events would not result in degradation of the public water supply. This issue should be fully understood by the Assembly and the public, but the mine operator must make every reasonable effort to prevent variances of this type from occurring.”

Bergstrom placed an emphasis on bringing good, high paying jobs to Juneau to grow the economy and support young families.

Bergstrom feels the committee report “offers little hope those jobs would be realized.”

He honed in on the word “promote” under the question the committee was to answer, and outlined another “circumstance” the Assembly needs to consider: the Assembly wants the AJ to happen and would augment the water supply so the Last Chance Basin could be offline, would be a good partner and work cooperatively to permit a workable operation, acquire a land position on or near the rock dump for a surface facility, and modify the mining ordinance for all large mines to be permitted by the Kensington model.

Bergstrom said the report outlines a variety of circumstances that qualify as permit conditions. He felt those were premature and should be evaluated at the appropriate time because if the city wants a mine company to come in, it needs to provide sufficient incentives. Bergstrom said a “disincentive” would be to place the water supply issue squarely on the shoulders of a developer and agrees with the report recommendation for the city to conduct a study.

To read the entire report go to http://bit.ly/mxtKT1.

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

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