Assembly wants time to consider changing mining ordinance

Proposal would make it easier to open a mine in Juneau or to reopen the Alaska-Juneau Mine

Making changes to the City and Borough of Juneau’s mining ordinance would take a long time and a great deal of effort to do, and the city is looking into it.

 

Monday’s CBJ Committee of the Whole meeting devolved into a history lesson, with Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski leading the class. She displayed a hefty collection of old press clippings from 1989, the last time the mining ordinance was amended, pointing out that undertaking this project would be difficult.

“I’m just bringing this up to illustrate that it’s gonna be a heavy lift, I think, to do this,” Gladziszewski said.

The conversation of amending the ordinance originated from a proposal from five businessmen who approached the Assembly members recently to discuss eliminating parts of the mining ordinance to make it easier for investors to open a mine in Juneau or to reopen the Alaska-Juneau Mine.

Even though the meeting wasn’t open for public comment, more than 30 people showed up, many of them wearing stickers that said, “Don’t take us backwards — Keep our public process more precious than gold.” None of the five men who proposed the changes to the ordinance — Frank Bergstrom, Jim Clark, Bill Corbus, Neil MacKinnon and Sam Smith — were in attendance.

After about 45 minutes of discussion, the Assembly agreed to not advance the proposal to the Planning Commission, which would be the next step. Instead, Mayor Ken Koelsch and City Manager Rorie Watt will meet over the next month or so and consider a plan to evaluate the possibility of amending the ordinance.

The Assembly members discussed putting together a committee to look into the ordinance and the benefits and costs of mining in Juneau. Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis mentioned a committee of seven or nine members, including a mix of Assembly members, commissioners and knowledgeable members of the public.

This would be the second committee in the past decade to look into resuming mining in Juneau. A seven-member AJ Mine Advisory Committee released a study in 2011 that stated that the feasibility of reopening the mine depends on the size of the mine.

Gladziszewski was on that committee, and reiterated that it was a long, arduous process. Assembly member Jesse Kiehl also warned that if the Assembly moves too quickly with a decision this large, it will compromise the public’s trust in the Assembly.

“This radical a rewrite, I think needs a much bigger discussion,” Kiehl said. “I’m afraid that something this big, straight to the tech team, is gonna look like stacking the deck, and that will ensure bitter fights forever and probably never getting the mine open.”

Assembly member Beth Weldon, a proponent of exploring the possibility of bringing more mining to Juneau, employed an economic argument. She talked about the multitude of high-paying jobs at the Kensington and Greens Creek mines, and initially proposed that the Assembly send the proposal to the Planning Commission.

That proposal changed as the meeting went along and she eventually agreed that Koelsch and Watt should look into the best way to proceed. Nankervis pointed out that the next Committee of the Whole meeting on May 22 is already fairly full, so the mining issue will likely be brought up at the next Committee of the Whole meeting, scheduled for June 12.

Gladziszewski said she’d prefer the Assembly go through this process slowly to make sure that it considers all possibilities and produces a solution that is built to last.

“I think that given that this issue is so contentious and so important for our town,” Gladziszewski said, “that the community deserves a process that is durable and it is, I would hope, unanimous.”


Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.


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