Mayor Bruce Bothelo recently convened a committee to determine what, if any, conditions should be pursued if the city re-opened the AJ Mine. If you lived in Juneau 20 years ago, you’ll remember the community battle that ensued when the CBJ considered reopening the mine in the heart of our city whose primary artery is also our community’s water supply. It was neighbor against neighbor, people lost jobs and folks spent countless nights sitting in committee meetings debating their value systems and the science of water quality.
Recently, the South East Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) ran ads in the Empire displaying children drinking filthy water and stated that if you’re not concerned, you should be. The Juneau Chamber of Commerce responded with a full page open letter to SEACC claiming the ads were tastelessly sowing fear. At the last hearing of the CBJ Mine Committee, mining proponent’s extolled Juneau’s glorious history of mining and urged the city to set few, if any, parameters on a mine — we should just open those doors and invite them in. Conversely, a young woman representing her generation essentially claimed we’d lost our collective minds to put our community water supply at risk and then expect her generation to clean up the mess. Déjà vu … let the divisiveness begin.
We’ve been here and done this and it should have been a lesson last time around. But let’s face it, gold is worth over $1,500 an ounce. While the price of gold is volatile and it could be back down to $400 an ounce next week, the same gold fever that struck Juneau at the turn of the century is striking again. Lots of people showed up, hoping to strike it rich by mining or selling commodities to miners, including women selling themselves. (We have a history of prostitution, as well, but it doesn’t mean we should bring that back). The point is that for all who came, only a few struck it rich which is likely to be the case this time around, as well. Some will doubtless gain by this effort but if it fails, as many mines do, our young speaker’s generation will indeed be left with the mess — our legacy.
It’s noteworthy that all hard-rock mines predict no water quality degradation, yet 76 percent of them end up contaminating nearby water sources. The Mine Safety and Health Administration cited 200 mines across the country with a whopping 4,600 violations last year. One subsidiary of Massey Energy was issued 43 citations, of which 42 percent were more than likely to result in injury. That is the same Massey Energy responsible for the death of 29 miners last year in a safety related explosion and makes one wonder if fines, penalties and family pay-outs are just one of their costs of doing business?
Thus, it begs the question why Juneau would support a risky venture predicated on the volatile value of gold in partnership with an industry with a poor historical reputation for safety, containment and clean-up for a project that is literally — physically — in the heart of our community where not only our quality of life but the safety of our water supply is at stake?
Juneau is the capital city — we should be investing in keeping government jobs in Juneau. Juneau is a fishing community — we should be investing in infrastructure for a valued food source. Juneau is a tourist destination — we should be investing in ways to bring high dollar visitors to our community for a first class experience. There are times when the risks associated with a project are simply too great for short term gain and even risk management strategies cannot mitigate the possible range of negative incomes. This is one of those times: Juneau’s quality of life — and its water — are truly far more precious than gold.
• Deborah Craig is a 29 year resident of Juneau who spent much of the early 90’s in mine related committee hearings and hopes this new decade will not bring more of the same.