SEACC fights for the people

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2008

It is flattering, in a way, that some people see the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council as an evil empire that controls this area.

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On the other hand, it's also nonsense that a homegrown group fighting the excesses of a multinational mining company should be seen as an enemy. Does Southeast Alaska really want a mine that operates from 10 to 15 years by its own estimate, then leaves behind polluted waters? Berners Bay is one of the richest marine habitats in Southeast Alaska and has been since long before Europeans showed up. Everyone agrees that it will be significantly devastated unless extreme care is taken.

Coeur Alaska, the home company, states in advertisements that it is downright cuddly and plans to be squeaky clean in performance. When it went back on its commitment to store tailings in a responsible fashion and announced it would be filling Lower Slate Lake with 4.6 million tons of chemical tailings, what would you have SEACC do? Go to court. Right, and the court agreed this violates the federal Clean Water Act. This was appealed and the decision stood. Filling a lake with chemical-laced tailings is a violation of the letter and spirit of the act.

There's a long legacy that giant corporations, particularly mining companies, have left. Good jobs are dangled before towns while concern for the environment is extolled. Then the mines play out and the site becomes a super-fund site. Somehow multi-national companies can disappear and concentrate on other places such as Brazil or Nigeria. Too bad about the locals.

Berners Bay is the home of the last significant herring run in Lynn Canal. It is also the site of the spring eulachon (hooligan) run. This means food for fish and on to commercial and sports fishermen. The money brought in by this will continue unless contaminants ruin it. This summer I visited Lake Baikal in Russia, the deepest freshwater lake in the world. It contains seals, fish, coral, and crustaceans found nowhere else.

Sadly, the lake, while huge, was dead. In August our waters are teeming: fish, birds, commercial and sports fishing boats everywhere. The ocean is alive. In Baikal I saw seagulls. That was it. Under the old Soviet Union, several chemical plants, etc., were built at the north end of the lake.

We can do better. SEACC is fighting for us.

Dee Longenbaugh


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