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Senate throws its support behind pair of Southeast mining projects

Posted: March 26, 2014 - 11:14pm
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. McGuire, which would give the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority the ability to issue bonds for two multi-mineral mining projects in Southeast Alaska.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. McGuire, which would give the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority the ability to issue bonds for two multi-mineral mining projects in Southeast Alaska.

The Alaska Senate declared its support for a pair of Southeast Alaska mining ventures Wednesday with the unanimous passage of an Anchorage Republican’s bill.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage and a lieutenant governor hopeful, is the primary sponsor of SB99, which allows the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to dole out more money for new development, she said.

“One of the No. 1 issues we have is we don’t have enough energy infrastructure in the state, and one of the No. 1 challenges cited to reaching that level of infrastructure that we need is access to capital,” McGuire said shortly after the Senate approved the measure.

The legislation was intended to clarify a section of law passed two years ago — also championed by McGuire — but amendments from Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman refocused the legislation on the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earth mine and the Niblack project, both in Southeast.

The first amendment allows AIDEA to issue bonds to help finance Bokan-Dotson, located about 40 miles southwest of Ketchikan, on Prince of Wales Island.

The second amendment does the same for the Niblack mine project — also on Prince of Wales — and the Gravina Island Industrial Complex near Ketchikan.

“Bokan represents an unsurpassed opportunity for Alaska to furnish materials of critical importance to American national defense, energy consumption and competitiveness in high tech applications at a world level, and Alaska lawmakers have recognized this,” Jim McKenzie, President & CEO of Ucore, the company behind the Bokan project, said in a press release issued last month, when Stedman’s amendment was introduced.

The amendment for the Bokan project authorizes AIDEA to issue up to $145 million in long-term bonds. Representatives from the Niblack project did not respond before deadline.

Currently, China controls about 95 percent of the development and export market of rare earth elements, McGuire said.

“If we can begin the process of exploring and developing rare earth minerals, that is a huge opportunity for the state of Alaska,” McGuire said.

She added that the projects could bring as many as 300 year-round jobs to the region.

Still, “the bigger issue is the revenue that can come back to the state in the rare earth minerals, and what we can contribute to national economy,” she said.

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James Coleman
James Coleman 03/27/14 - 05:47 am
Do it

We need: jobs, revenue, and independence from the Chinese when it comes to precious and rare earth metals. We really should be making our own batteries.

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 03/27/14 - 08:54 am
Koch Lingo

The Koch brothers are in town and our representatives, like L. McGuire, are speaking Koch lingo. That public land and all the resources should be directed to private industry.

"we can contribute to national economy" by enriching industry. Really? how has trickle down been working out for the public? Not so good. Not since the great depression has their been such a divide in wealth we have the 1% and then the 99%.

First off, if our state is financing this then shouldn't Alaskans be the ones seeing returns on our states investment? Certainly, CEO's should not be allowed to make multimillion dollar salaries off of public resources. This sort of wealth should be distributed, don't you think.
Lets see a bill that addresses this sort of abuse.

We have Koch brothers bank rolling our elections now, across the country and here to. They are doing what they can to put industry people in local, state and national offices to direct public land and resources into their pockets.

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 03/27/14 - 08:28 am
radioactive isotopes, uranium mining on Bokan Mountain

"normal environmental protections may be disregarded"

The public has a right to know that "normal environmental protections may be disregarded" because of the label "strategic national importance". Alaskans and our way life are being tossed right under the bus.

"The site is listed as a high priority by the State of Alaska Contaminated Sites Program and has been reviewed for Superfund listing.

This area is drained by Kendrick Creek and boarders Kendrick Bay. Kendrick Creek is listed as an important stream for the rearing and spawning of salmon by Alaska Fish and Game. Kendrick Bay is a significant commercial salmon fishery and is also heavily used for subsistence fish and shellfish gathering.

Decades of uranium mining on Bokan Mountain have contaminated Kendrick Creek and portions of Kendrick Bay with heavy metals and radioactive isotopes that are quickly moving up the food chain. Proposals for re-newed mining threaten to cause new contamination and increase the danger to human health.

Significant stream and marine contamination was reported in a study done in 2004. (2004 Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection Report, USDA Forest Service). This report shows that Kendrick Creek and the tide flats entering Kendrick Bay contain levels of lead, arsenic and radioactive isotopes 3 to 4 times the background levels. This poses a significant threat to wildlife and people utilizing this area for food.

The U.S. Forest Service has placed the site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund. The Forest Service is currently conducting a clean-up of the contaminated area upland from the bay.

It is uncertain how renewed mining activity will affect this process. Kendrick Bay and Creek were both taken off Alaska’s Impaired Waters list and put under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Meanwhile, U-Core continues a drilling and exploration program focused on both Rare Earth Elements (REE’s) and uranium. REEs are used in new technologies such as cell phones and wind turbines. Because these minerals are considered of strategic national importance, normal environmental protections may be disregarded."

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 03/27/14 - 08:59 am
uranium Lesil No Thanks

"Bokan represents an unsurpassed opportunity for Alaskans" to be contaminated.

No thanks Radioactive McGuire

Kelly Flynn
Kelly Flynn 03/27/14 - 01:08 pm

That is some eye opening stuff Tom Leston. Might you post up where you found it?

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