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City engineer discusses AJ Mine water study at Chamber

Posted: November 11, 2011 - 12:05am
City and Borough of Juneau Director of Engineering Rorie Watt speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday on his study for an alternative drinking water supply for the town in the event that the AJ Mine was reopened.   Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
City and Borough of Juneau Director of Engineering Rorie Watt speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday on his study for an alternative drinking water supply for the town in the event that the AJ Mine was reopened.

AJ Mine’s potential to create 200 jobs and yield more than one billion dollars worth of gold was well received at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Rorie Watt, engineering director for the City and Borough of Juneau, gave an informational speech about the mine, its history, future potential and its impact on Juneau’s drinking water system. The main question, Watt said, is “can we develop the mine in a way that doesn’t affect our drinking water? Is the water system and its connection to the mine a fatal flaw?”

Watt said the preferred size of mine would produce 3,500 tons of ore per day.

“Commiserate with volume of Kensington or Greens Creek,” he said.

Watt estimated the total gold yield at 780,000 ounces.

“We’re in the $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion range,” Watt said.

Though lucrative, Watt said the gold yield at the AJ would not be a large find. He said the city is thinking about how to explore for more.

Third-generation Juneau resident and Chamber member Marie Darlin said she and her 80-year-old friends, who also lived through the last time AJ was operational, are living proof AJ was safe.

“Juneau has become what it is today based on its mining history,” she said. “People need to realize that you can survive in a mining town, if you do it right. Even with the mistakes of the past. If it’s done right, and I believe that it can be done right,”

She said Juneau should look at all options and “not just say ‘no’ to everything that comes along.”

Darlin said she approved of Watt’s handling of Juneau’s AJ Mine asset.

Murry Walsh said he thinks reopening the AJ Mine is a great idea and agrees with Darlin that “Rorie is doing a good solid job.”

Walsh is a Chamber member and owner of Walsh Planning and Development Services. Walsh is also radio host on 630 KJNO. Walsh said he was city planning director from late 1980s to the middle 1990s, during the time AJ and Kensington mines were both going through permitting.

Other Chamber members expressed concern over how the city would fit 200 new miners in Juneau’s tight housing market and how the city can build the mine against the will of anti-mine advocates.

At the end of his presentation, Rorie Watt said he would release his four-part study of Juneau’s water system starting in January or February.

“I want to unfold the report slowly, bring as many people along and build a knowledge base,” Watt said.

The study researches Juneau’s water system, the risk of a mine in or near the drinking water system, what the city’s options are for its water system, where the city’s next water supply will come from in the future and future risks to the system.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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