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My Turn: AJ Mine: A twisted new path

Posted: June 24, 2012 - 11:01pm

On Monday, June 25th the City and Borough of Juneau will consider a multi-million dollar plan, paid for by our tax monies to expand the drinking water system primarily to accommodate the re-opening of the AJ Mine.

In the process of contemplating an active mine in downtown Juneau, it has become apparent that our current drinking water system is too fragile to endure the threat from mine pollution. The system probably needs fixing regardless of the AJ, but the current rush for a new system at Salmon Creek suggests gold speculation is really driving this process.

CBJ has been approached by a company interested in developing the AJ, but this developer has not revealed themselves, participated in any discussions or offered to off-set taxpayer dollars to accommodate the mine. This company’s interest has been mentioned several times but their identity and intentions seem to remain secretive. Meanwhile, the city keeps stating that this is an “open and transparent public process.”

Mining is a very speculative business. Legendary investor Doug Casey calls investments in mining “the most volatile stocks on earth.” Currently only the citizens of Juneau are assuming any risk.

The road leading to this point is very twisted. Last year the Assembly decided to examine what it would take to promote the AJ Mine to a prospective developer. They formed an Advisory Committee that considered a purely hypothetical “Mine Plan.”

Based on this hypothetical plan the Committee identified several conceptual recommendations. Several of these concepts, such as underground milling and 100% backfill of tailings, have never been accomplished anywhere. The Committee held only one public meeting dedicated to public input.

Based on only one of many concerns identified, the CBJ Assembly authorized $250,000 to study the water system and pay the engineering department to promote this hypothetical mine. Both the City Assembly and the Committee refused to adopt any specific restrictions on how the mine should be developed.

A draft report on the drinking water system was produced, and the CBJ Engineering Department solicited comments and questions from interested citizens. There has been no response to these comments and questions. There has been no final report prepared.

Now the city wants to pass a resolution that would result in an expansion of the drinking water system. If approved, this will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Exactly how many is not clear.

To summarize: We have gone from exploring the idea of promoting a mine based on a 2-page concept that has never been tried in the real world, to spending $250,000 on a draft report on water issues related to the potential redevelopment of the AJ Mine, to deciding whether to adopt a municipal drinking water system plan based on a draft report that was initiated by a hypothetical idea.

We ask that the Assembly slow down and stop spending precious public monies on this hair-brain idea until a developer is willing to submit an actual plan that has undergone a feasibility analysis. Once such a proposal is actually on the table, then the entire community can decide how best to proceed.

• Archibald is the Mining and Clean Water Coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and is a resident of Juneau.

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