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Without public notice, Assembly goes on record supporting opening AJ Mine and Treadwell Mine

Posted: July 27, 2013 - 11:05pm

It might surprise you to learn that, at the July 15 meeting of the Assembly, the Assembly passed a resolution, with contracts attached, that claim it is the desire of the City and Borough “to cooperate in attracting a mining company to explore, develop and operate the mining properties.”

The mining properties include the AJ mine downtown and the Treadwell mine in Douglas. This was done as a routine updating of Resolution 2656, originally drafted in 1980 to ensure coordinated negotiations for opening the mine properties.

Having served in local office and been around state politics for decades, I know that one politician’s technical matter is often another politician’s red flag. So I took the time to read the Mine Resolution in the context of the AJ Mine Advisory Committee’s report to the Assembly, dated May 2011. I soon discovered there is indeed a red flag that should catch the attention of every resident in Juneau who would have concerns about re-opening the AJ Mine downtown and the Treadwell mine in Douglas.

Those on the technical matter side, Mayor Sanford and Assembly Member Randy Wanamaker, are correct in that the Mining Resolution does establish a single body, a committee of the Assembly, to negotiate for the exploration and development of these mine properties. And they are right in that this resolution has been around for 34 years. But this is no simple resolution. Attached to it are legal agreements stipulating how the negotiations would proceed and performance conditions that would need to be met by the parties. It even addresses what happens to the personal property after termination of the contract for exploration and development.

It is important to note that this 1980 Mining resolution and contract has not been updated to include any of the conditions identified by the AJ Mine Advisory Committee. So if you want to buy into the mindset of opening mines in the 1980s, before Juneau had a booming cruise ship industry abutting the mine properties or understood the vulnerabilities of our primary drinking water supply, then it’s a routine matter to update these resolutions.

However, if the Assembly pays any attention to the report prepared by the AJ Mine Advisory Committee, the action taken by the Assembly on July 15 is more than a red flag — it’s a slap in the face to the Committee’s work and any sense of due public process. The Committee’s letter of transmittal to the Assembly did not endorse opening the AJ Mine, rather it cautioned, “If it chooses to go forward, the Assembly will have to decide what its own bottom line requirements are, without which it is not willing to proceed. We urge the Assembly to take its time to thoroughly explore these questions in conjunction with a well designed public process. The Assembly should investigate and pursue options that afford citizens SUBSTANTIAL (emphasis added) assurance that their interests are being represented.”

Stuffing the mining resolution under the consent agenda with no public notice does not provide any assurance at all that citizens interests are being represented. Rather, it speaks to a back door attempt to sneak by the public controversy and have unequivocal support for re-opening the AJ Mine and Treadwell mines as we saw fit in 1980.

After solicitng considerable public input, The AJ Mine Committee concluded that, “It is clear from public comment, that the lengthly and corrosive debate [about re-opening the AJ Mine] in the 80s and 90s damaged the fabric of our civic life.” Knowing this Assembly Member Crane wanted to move the Mine Resolution to the Committee of the Whole so that questions could be asked in a full public forum. Her motion failed and as such the Assembly’s action clearly demonstrates that the Assembly would prefer to not only ignore the lessons learned from the last mine debate but the recommendations of the AJ Committee; risking again to damage the fabric of our community.

Fortunately, Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl moved for re-consideration and the issue comes up again, this Monday. There is far more than a ‘routine technical matter’ on the line; there is the publics’ trust.

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