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Special Session and the AJ Mine Committee

Posted: May 23, 2011 - 8:58pm

The week’s stories about the legislative special session and the report of AJ Mine Advisory Committee have resulted in three songs singing in my head. There are times that the simplicity of lyrics manage to capture complex situations. The first is Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away.”

Slip slidin’ away

Slip slidin’ away

You know the nearer your destination

The more you’re slip slidin’ away.

This is what happened when a compromise on the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) failed to pass the House by one vote. As a state born out of yearning desire to have more control over our natural resources, we continue to slip away in the opposite direction — giving the federal government more control and influence. Without the ACMP, the state loses the right to weigh in on federal issues like offshore drilling. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, who was at the center of the effort to restore the ACMP to more than a hollow voice for local government, said “The governor is fighting the federal government for more states’ rights and local communities are fighting the state for more local rights.” Hearing this message, the governor began to seek a compromise. However, the nearer legislators got to the destination of allowing local communities a reasonable voice in coastal development and the closer the special session deadline loomed, the more the opposition was able to derail the emerging compromise. In the end, it disappointingly slipped away by one vote with five House members absent.

But will this keep us from howling at the federal government for interfering with our natural resource affairs? I can only hope and imagine us taking a different track ... a partnership track that leads to shared responsibility for managing our resources wisely.

Following the dedicated work of those community members appointed to answer the question, “under what circumstances, if any, the city should promote the AJ Mine?”, I am reminded of Neil Young’s song, “A Heart of Gold.” The first stanza starts off

I want to live

I want to give

I’ve been a miner

For a heart of gold.

For me, there are three take away messages from the work of the AJ Committee. First, all committee members agreed that protecting the Gold Creek Water system is the highest priority. For some, clean water is the equivalent of gold. Second, judging by the testimony received and the dissenting opinions of some committee members, opening the AJ Mine, even at a slightly smaller scale, remains a divisive and polarizing issue for the community of Juneau. Yet this did not deter the committee members from diligently volunteering for three months to delve into details in a thoughtful and considerate manner. In the end, they provided pages of worthwhile recommendations from mine tailing disposal to noise abatement. It is through this type of exemplary service that Juneau continues to find hearts of gold in our mining town.

Recognizing part of the impetus for exploring a revised AJ option is jobs and economic development, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better question to explore. Shouldn’t we also be asking “what else can the mine chambers and tunnels be used for”? Let’s think outside the mine of gold. The mine also provides acres of a “controlled environment” where temperatures remain steady and light is in the hands of technology to provide. It is these types of environments that are used to produce and/or assemble pharmaceutical, biotech and electronic products. Just with a simple Google search, I found one company, Controlled Pharming Ventures, touting their location in a 100-acre underground facility. Can we put such a facility in our caverns? Or can we grow exotic mushrooms for the Japanese market? Perhaps we could establish another exemplary committee to explore these types of questions.

You may call me a dreamer.

But I’m not the only one.

• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.

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