SEACC board member explains his perspective

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I am one of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council board members addressed in the letter-ad placed in the Juneau Empire by a group of Kensington Mine workers. The ad was written as a personal appeal, so I will respond from a personal perspective.

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I am a fisherman. I was born in Petersburg and have fished commercially and subsistence-hunted here all my life. As a fisherman and hunter, the well-being of the natural world that sustains me is essential to my existence. Therefore, the laws that protect our natural world are extremely important to me, and I follow them with deep respect. Along with the tides and weather, the laws that protect our fisheries and wildlife form the framework by which I live my life.

Miners live by removing mineral ore from the Earth. Ore is inanimate and does not depend on the health of the natural world. Harvesters of minerals have no incentive to protect the natural world they work in. Mining companies dig up minerals until it is no longer profitable to do so, then move on, taking their workers with them. What is left behind is irrelevant to the workers' future but is relevant to others.

I say this not to place blame but to show a basic difference in the mining industry from mine. Perhaps recognizing this difference will help the workers see things from my point of view.

I am a working man. I fully appreciate the workers' need to pay bills and provide for their families because I have bills to pay, too.

Still, I ask them to look beyond their present monetary concerns and recognize the importance of this precedent-setting case. Think of the devastating effect it would have if mine tailings were allowed to be dumped into our lakes and streams. It would cause irreparable harm to many places in our country for generations.

I hope this helps the workers understand that SEACC is not trying to take jobs away. We are defending the Clean Water Act. Mine workers are caught between us and the efforts of their employer to dump mine tailings as cheaply as possible to maximize profit. If Coeur Alaska could be convinced to adopt a responsible dry-tailings plan, their employment would be secure.

I encourage the mine workers to ask Coeur management to proceed with a dry-tailings plan.

Eric Lee


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