A Canadian mining company rented all of Centennial Hall to host a Monday public information session on its plans to use a hoverbarge to transport materials from the Tulsequah Chief Mine down the Taku River to Juneau.
Local environmental groups oppose Redfern Resources' use of the entire convention center and have asked for space to provide their take on the possible effects the proposed hoverbarge might have on Southeast Alaska's largest salmon fishery.
"They're trying to stifle public debate," said Beverly Anderson, executive director of the Juneau Watershed Partnership.
Anderson asked the Juneau Assembly on Monday for help accessing space.
Redfern Resources Ltd., based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has proposed using a specially designed air-cushion barge to access the Tulsequah Chief Mine in Canada via the Taku River. The company filed for a state land-use permit and a fish-habitat permit to move forward with the mine, roughly 40 miles northeast of Juneau.
Salina Landstad, Redfern spokesperson, said all of Centennial Hall is needed Monday to show videos, host discussions and provide child care for the attending public. One room will host mining information and explain industry practices, another will detail hoverbarge operations and another will provide a place for mining industry associations.
"It's educational," she said.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said Assembly intervention on an established contract would be inappropriate.
Though the city can't help opposition groups gain entry, the Department of Natural Resources tried to intervene.
Tom Crafford, the department's mining coordinator, advised Redfern that open space for others would be a good idea. Redfern officials said they needed all the space and didn't intend to release any of it, he said.
Landstad said her company decided against sharing with opposition groups in an effort to better inform the public.
"This is information we want to provide in the best manner possible," she said.
Landstad said it was untrue that other organizations were being kept from presenting information in Redfern's rented space. The Alaska Mining Association and other industry specific organizations will be there, she said.
Speaking for environmental group Rivers Without Borders, Chris Zimmer said the meeting was supposed to be public.
"Red Corp has highjacked the meeting," he said.
If Redfern provided Rivers Without Borders space during its event, Zimmer would promote his organization's perspective on the hoverbarge and the state permitting process.
"We have enough information to show the barge presents a danger for the Taku," he said. "It would give a forum for the public to ask us for information."
"Just because he [Zimmer] can't disseminate his protest information doesn't mean Redfern is stifling debate," said Liz Arnold, who represents Redfern in Juneau.
Crafford said in general he didn't like the idea of competing meetings or the inclusion of the Alaska Mining Association by Redfern. It distracts from the goal of the public meeting and people need to hear what the agencies and Redfern have to say, he said.