My Turn: Correcting false claims about Lower Slate Lake

Posted: Sunday, January 01, 2006

I am writing in response to the My Turn of Mr. Lindekugel of SEACC/Sierra Club to clarify some statements related to the mine tailings at Lower Slate Lake.

Three Native corporations (Goldbelt Corp., Klukwan Inc., and Kake Tribal Corporation) reviewed Coeur Alaska's environmental plan during the planning process to develop a plan to rehabilitate Lower Slate Lake. The plan intervenes and counters the diminishing "wetlands" that is occurring in the City and Borough of Juneau. Mr. Lindekugel is not merely a little loose with his facts, but his letter marginalizes and completely ignores the decade-long Native Alaskan input, counseling and sincere effort that went into the tailings plan to ensure that it is environmentally safe and sound. Forty acres of wetland creation is a big deal to those of us who truly care about the environment. Pinocchio and or Lindekugel? You decide.

Fabrication 1. The use of the word "toxic" mine tailings. The ground-up earth that is going to be dumped into Lower Slate Lake is, in fact, "natural". This mine tailing slurry of fine silt is the same exact silt that streams out of Antler Creek into Berners Bay daily. The use of the word "toxic" is used to hype hysteria and sensationalism. If Antler Creek is "toxic" then why do salmon spawn there and why can we harvest shellfish such as clams and crabs there? I suppose water is toxic too if you drink too much.

Fabrication 2. "The tailings would have a pH level approximately equal to ammonia". Shocking but untrue. The pH level of the crushed rock and earthen mix is the same as what comes out of the ground. The earth does not smell like ammonia; there is no ammonia at the mill site; the tailings lake will not smell like a swimming pool. Ammonia has a pH of 10 to 11. The tailings will be pH-neutral. Jokingly, I am not so sure that Mr. Lindekugel hasn't confused his cleaning agents with his bottled water or other liquid substances over the holiday.

Fabrication 3. "... Killing all the fish and other aquatic life in the lake". Mr. Lindekugel knows Lower Slate Lake is an unproductive and algae-infested dying lake that is being choked off from oxygen. The primary marine life is sticklebacks and "no-see-um" larvae. However, the Kensington Mine tailings intervention not only cleans up and oxygenates, but expands approximately 40 acres of prime wetlands on our coastal waterfowl flyway to this very lake. Instead of "killing all the fish and aquatic life in the lake", the mining intervention will convert this dying lake into a productive, living and growing lake, increasing Berners Bay waterfowl, marine life and forest animals. Why this salient fact is always ignored by SEACC and for that matter, the Empire?

Fabrication 4. The Kensington Mine is not the Pebble Mine and the comparison of the two operations is like comparing Christmas with Halloween. Each mines' impact on the environment must be weighed individually on its own merits, facts, and circumstances.

Fabrication 5. "Alaskans won't get a dime in state revenue from the Kensington mine". From the FSEIS: Annual total tax revenue estimated using the IMPLAN model approaches $18.4 million (2002 dollars), about $8.3 million of which would be directed to the federal government. The Alaska state and CBJ governments would receive about $10.1 million of the total tax receipts. Additional property taxes accruing to the local government are estimated to exceed $1.4 million on an annual basis. How many millions of dollars annually will SEACC contribute to the city, our schools or state of Alaska coffers?

The Kensington Mine gives the Southeast Region "Christmas gifts": diversification of our economy, a larger tax base, more than 200 jobs, expanded schools, a better future for many Native Alaskans, and an increase in wetlands that increases the number of waterfowl, marine life and game in Berners Bay. On the other hand, SEACC and Mr. Lindekugel's Halloween masquerade, as some environmental fairy godmother to Pinocchio, is only the pretty face to their "Grim Reaper Grinch" agenda. SEACC obviously condones the use of fabrications and facades to justify the means to stop responsible and environmentally sound development. SEACC and Mr. Lindekugel's New Year's message demonstrates that they are truly the Grinch that is trying to steal Southeast Alaska's Christmas presents.

As an alternative to being the Grinch, SEACC and Mr. Lindekugel should drop its lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and work together with Southeast Alaskans, the Native Corporations and Coeur Alaska to protect our environment and simultaneously create a healthy future for Southeast Alaskans. Let's deposit the natural and nontoxic mine tailings into the bottom of Lower Slate Lake and create new, clean and productive wetlands for generations of man and wildlife to enjoy.

• Duff W. Mitchell is the chief operating officer for Kake Tribal Corp.

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