A miner matter: Proposal would make reopening Alaska-Juneau Mine easier

The mine has been closed since 1944, but another effort to reopen it may be underway

The AJ Mine and sawmill are seen in downtown Juneau in 1958. (Caroline Jensen | Alaska State Library Historical Collections; ASL-P417-043)

The Alaska-Juneau Mine has been closed for decades, but some would like to see that changed.

 

A group of five businessmen — Frank Bergstrom, Jim Clark, Bill Corbus, Neil MacKinnon and Sam Smith — have put together proposed changes to the City and Borough of Juneau’s mining code. That proposal goes in front of the CBJ Assembly in Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

The changes in the proposal center around making the process of reopening the mine at some point easier. The proposal to the CBJ Assembly states that the intention is to eliminate parts of the city’s mining code that are redundant to federal and state regulations.

These parts of the code, the proposal says, “increase the delay and cost of mining exploration and mining within the CBJ.” The specifics of this proposal will be discussed at the Committee of the Whole meeting.

The AJ Mine, currently owned by CBJ and Alaska Energy Light &Power (AEL&P), has been closed since 1944, but there have been attempts to reopen it in the past. These attempts usually meet a great deal of pushback from environmental advocates, including Guy Archibald, Mining and Clean Water Coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

“This isn’t gonna fly,” Archibald said by phone Saturday. “There are gonna be a lot of people in town that are severely upset about this.”

The arguments for and against the mine reopening are long-standing and fairly simple. Those looking to reopen the mine point at the economic benefits, while those opposed to it point at both the environmental costs and the fact that a mining production so close to the city would make the city less attractive for locals and tourists alike.

In 2011, an AJ Mine Advisory Committee of seven local officials looked into the possibility of reopening the mine and found that the feasibility of that depends on the size of the mine.

One of the members of that committee in 2011, Maria Gladziszewski, is now an CBJ Assembly member. She said that Monday’s meeting will the be first time that the Assembly will discuss this issue, and she is looking to look into this proposed ordinance with as many viewpoints as possible.

“It has to be designed through some inclusive public process,” Gladziszewski said. “This issue has been very divisive for our town for decades.”

Archibald has been an outspoken critic of the possibility of reopening the mind, pointing out that because the mine is on private property, any plan proposed about the mine will not receive a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review unless it were dumping its excess ore in a federally-owned waters.

Monday’s meeting is merely the beginning of the city’s process of considering this proposal, and Archibald said he plans to be there to take it in. This five-man group who has proposed the changes includes a former AEL&P president (Corbus) and the president of Hyak Mining (MacKinnon), and Archibald wants to make sure that the other side of the argument is represented as well.

“Their primary responsibility is to protect their citizens,” Archibald said of the city, “the health, safety and well-being of their citizens. It’s not to try to go into the gold mining business for money.”


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


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