Mining Committee seeks to make ordinance easier to understand

Proposed changes to ordinance strive to maintain local control over ordinance, eliminate socioeconomic study

Jim Clark, speaking for a group of Juneau residents asking the city to make changes to the mining ordinance, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Mining Committee on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

The City and Borough of Juneau Mining Committee voted Thursday to pursue changes to the city’s current mining ordinance — very minor ones, that is.

 

The changes, if they’re made, will have one simple goal: make the ordinance easier to understand. At the request of the committee members, City Attorney Amy Mead will go through the 17-page ordinance and outline areas that could use clarification. She will not be suggesting any substantive changes to the ordinance, but will be making changes to language.

“I think they’re not significant changes,” Mead said. “There’s a lot of, maybe, reorganization and how the ordinance is framed and laid out.”

Thursday’s meeting was the third since the committee filled its ranks with two Planning Commission members and two public members to join the three Assembly members on the committee. The majority of the meeting was spent hearing from Jim Clark, who represents the group of men asking the city to change the ordinance.

Clark began by clearing up some misconceptions about their proposal. He said this proposal is not intended to lead to the Alaska-Juneau Mine reopening. It’s intended to make it easier for an outside company to pursue mining somewhere in the borough by eliminating parts of the current ordinance that are redundant to state and federal standards.

With job losses in recent years in Juneau, Clark said the city should do all it can to promote business in the borough.

“There’s room for new people in this community,” Clark said. “We should be encouraging people to come, young people particularly, participate in what should be a very strong and thriving community.”

The goal of the subcommittee is to closely examine the ordinance and determine whether it needs to be changed, and if so, how it should be changed. The subcommittee has already met a handful of times, commissioning Jade North, LLC natural resources consultant Bob Loeffler to draft a report examining the ordinance. The committee members are working on a date to get Loeffler to Juneau to speak with them.

The report was completed in October, but the committee members have not discussed it publicly yet. Loeffler found that Juneau’s ordinance is fairly typical, saying that any overlap between Juneau’s regulations and state and federal regulations “depends on how the ordinance is administered.”

The proposal that Clark and his colleagues — Frank Bergstrom, Bill Corbus, Denny DeWitt, Neil MacKinnon and Sam Smith — originally sent to the Assembly in April 2017 has changed over the past nine months. Clark said the first proposal was to cut the ordinance down from 17 pages to about three and a half. Now, the proposal has been adjusted to cut the ordinance down to about six and a half pages.

Clark detailed a couple of the adjustments to their proposal, saying they’ve added language to preserve more local control of the ordinance. For example, there’s language in the proposed ordinance that makes it clearer that a violation of the federal or state permit is also a violation of the local permit, and the CBJ could enforce that if the federal or state government doesn’t.

Clark said one of the main goals of the proposal is to eliminate the need for a socioeconomic study. This study, which would be done fairly early in the process if a company applies to mine in the CBJ, takes a look at what the impact of a mine would be on how the city operates.

“No other entity in Juneau is required to come up with a socioeconomic study,” Clark said.

Taking the study out would make it much easier for a company to get its application approved and begin mining operations. Detractors of the proposal have pointed out that eliminating the socioeconomic study would be choosing to ignore the risks that come with bringing another mine to the borough.

That debate will have to wait for at least a couple weeks. The committee will meet again Feb. 8, taking two weeks between meetings instead of one in order to allow Mead time to go through the ordinance. Commitee member Beth Weldon made the motion for Mead to look into clarifying the wording in the ordinance.

“What (Mead’s) proposed, and what Ms. Weldon’s proposed, is perfectly reasonable,” Clark said. “It will work, and we’ll end up with a much better product. Even if our group doesn’t agree with all of it at the end of the day I think we’ll end up with a much better product.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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