AJ Mine, Second Crossing to be vetted in Assembly goals

Posted: Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The AJ Mine and a second crossing to Douglas are arguably the two most contentious issues on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s top 10 list for 2011.

The Assembly Committee of the Whole met Monday to fine tune the goals it set in November and discuss a direction for the coming year.

The items in the top 10 list aren’t ranked in a particular order. Mayor Bruce Botelho suggested they change the wording of the mining goal to focus not on reviewing the entire large mine ordinance, but focus specifically on the AJ Mine.

Botelho said the majority of the mine is owned by the city as part of a unit agreement with AJT Mining Properties. He said the issue comes up every few decades, with the biggest debate between 1988 and 1990.

“The question I would want to see us wrestle with this year: under what circumstances, if any, should we promote development of the mine?” he said.

Botelho suggested many of the objections people raised with the closed downtown mine may not apply today because of technology changes. He suggested forming a volunteer committee that would look at the benefits and detriments of development.

Assemblywoman Karen Crane said she heard from a lot of people when this goal was first introduced who were upset the Assembly is even revisiting the issue. She suggested all segments of the community have the opportunity to be involved in the study.

“This is going to be as contentious of an issue, I believe, as it was last time,” Crane said.“It will be an issue and we need to get the diverse opinions involved from the very beginning.”

Assemblymen Bob Doll and Johan Dybdahl both agreed with the language change. They felt the potential of the mine should be reviewed given technology trends.

Committee Chairman Merrill Sanford suggested the second crossing to Douglas be eliminated from the goals, largely due to the failure of the ballot measure this fall where voters were asked if they would support extending the temporary 1 percent sales tax for 10 years to fund a second crossing.

“I think the issue is dead for right now,” he said. “We don’t have the money to do this. State and federal dollars won’t be available probably for 8-10 years. (The issue) will never be dead, but we should be putting it off for a year or two.”

Others on the Assembly disagreed. Dybdahl said just by going by the vote result is wrong, because there were a number of reasons people voted against the measure aside from the funding source.

Assemblymen David Stone and Jonathan Anderson agreed.

“I just want to recall, quite a significant percentage of those vocally opposed to the voter initiative started their statements by saying, ‘I support a North Douglas crossing, but,’” Anderson said. “It’s the ‘but’ part we need to sort out. It’s an important place for us to spend some time and effort.”

Assemblyman Bob Doll said he was opposed to the ballot measure, but sponsored the item on the committee that set the goals. He said just because the method proposed on the ballot wasn’t acceptable to voters, doesn’t mean there aren’t valid options remaining.

Goals in progress via committees or administration are promotion of greater availability and affordability of day care; supporting funding of a new state office building (not necessarily at a specific location); writing a climate action plan; promoting Juneau as the best location for a world-class climate research center; supporting fisheries development; reviewing options to manage solid waste; and continuing seawalk improvements.

Regarding solid waste disposal, City Manager Rod Swope said the city received four informal responses for requests for interest in taking sludge, since the city incinerator is nonfunctional. Swope said Waste Management’s small plasma incinerator prototype should be complete in three weeks and the city should know in November if that’s something the company is willing to invest in and build. He said that does not guarantee they would be willing to put one in Juneau, either. Doll said he will be visiting the plasma incinerator site himself at his own expense in either January or February.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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