Over the last five years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in mining in Southeast Alaska. As someone who has been involved in advocating for the Kensington construction and for the Greens Creek permit expansion, I appreciate the work of Sen. Begich and our Congressional delegation supporting our local economy.
Kensington Mine, located north of Juneau, has employed hundreds of skilled residents from our region, including laborers, operators, carpenters, electricians and plumbers, to name a few. As the price of minerals has remained high, Kensington has been a source of economic growth for local businesses.
But that growth was threatened when federal agencies threatened to deny an important permit. In 2009, Kensington Mine was applying for a permit to use Lower Slate Lake to store tailings. Fortunately, Senator Begich stepped in and pressured the Corps of Engineers to approve the permit. The Juneau Empire reported that Kensington employs 260 employees and 100 contractors. Many of these contract workers are union employees earning good, middle class wages and benefits, such as health insurance and retirement. It is hard to find a good job with benefits, so we need to protect the ones we have.
Now Kensington continues to grow and invest in capital projects in what the company’s CEO called a “massive retooling.” Kensington has expanded substantially since its permit. They built a bunkhouse and underground paste plant. They have also done millions of dollars worth of new mineral exploration. For the Juneau community, this expansion at Kensington is good news.
Greens Creek Mine also is expanding. According to the company, it has invested in “record capital expenditures” including facilities for an expanded workforce and longer term mine operations. Greens Creek employs some 270 people. Senator Begich has supported Greens Creek’s efforts to obtain a 200-acre expansion on federal Forest Service land, and this expansion extends the life of the mine by 30-50 years.
Greens Creek expansion is challenging because it is on a National Monument where mining usually isn’t allowed to expand. In order to get those kind of expansion permits, it is critical to have the support of elected officials in our Congressional delegation.
With a Democratic Administration in Washington, the Kensington or Greens Creek permit probably would have faced tough opposition without Sen. Begich going to bat for these local mines. As Alaskans, we have an interest in a Congressional delegation that has clout with both Democratic and Republican Administrations.
• Brice is the President of the Juneau Building and Construction Trades Council, and Southeast Ak Business Representative for Laborers Local 942, and Public Employees Local 71.