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The AJ Mine with a wink and a nod

Posted: January 7, 2013 - 1:00am

I recall a Monty Python skit where two men meet and one man insinuates that the wife of other is of questionable virtue. He will not come right out and say it, but makes his point through a series of “know whatahmean, wink/wink, nod/nod” suggestions. It was a play on the old “a wink and a nod” tactic used to covertly support an activity that contains an underlying, unspoken context.

This is how the relentless push to promote the AJ Mine seems to be playing out. It is clear that the major stumbling block to developing the AJ Mine is its threat to Juneau’s only year-round drinking water system. The context left unspoken is that the AJ would be much more attractive to a potential developer if said developer did not have to pay for impacts to our drinking water supply.

Today, Monday, Jan. 7 the Assembly will be considering a resolution that calls for the City to begin the process of building a multi-million dollar filtration plant at Salmon Creek. If you thought this is related to the possible development of the AJ Mine, you would be wrong. The Resolution clearly states that “such plans anticipate that the AJ Mine may or may not be developed in the future (wink/wink, nod/nod).”

The resolution also adopts the new Municipal Drinking Water Supply Plan. This plan sets out the policies of the CBJ “in the event that the CBJ needs to increase its supply of drinking water.” The Plan lists six reasons that would “trigger” expansion of the drinking water system at Salmon Creek. None of these triggers have been met, but this planned expansion is not about furthering the promotion of the AJ (wink/wink, nod/nod).

In 2011 CBJ conducted a risk assessment of the Last Chance Basin watershed. The AJ Mine Related Water Study that resulted identified three separate concerns. Two of the concerns are related to resuming mine development and the third concern is with the rising level of polluted water in the Deep North section of the mine that someday will spill out of the drainage tunnel. However, the justification for this large expenditure of public money to build a redundant water system is not still related to promoting the AJ Mine (wink/wink, nudge/nudge).

Meanwhile, the CBJ will consider changes to the water use rates that may have impacts to metered businesses, bringing Salmon Creek into compliance with secondary disinfection requirements not met, the structural integrity of the water storage tunnel is uncertain, the renovations to the drainage tunnel recommended by the Advisory Committee are not being considered, both the Juneau Douglas and Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plants are in need of major upgrades (the necessary other end of water production), and for decades the CBJ’s water and wastewater infrastructure has been operating without any attempt to contribute to a capital replacement fund a little at a time to avoid the eventual sticker-shock of replacement.

I would think assuring the adequacy of the existing infrastructure would take precedence over building redundancy.

Oh, and after one meeting dedicated to hearing from the public on the AJ Mine issue two years ago, the Resolution promises “an open and deliberative public process (wink/wink, nod/nod, nudge/nudge).”

• Archibald is the Mining and Clean Water Coordinator for the SouthEast Alaska Conservation Council.

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