Comments were lost at mine meeting

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

On Jan. 28, Steve Hohensee of the U.S. Forest Service told the Juneau Empire that the preferred option for the Kensington Mine had not yet been selected. "We're leaving it open until we hear comments from the public."

On Feb. 24, the oddest thing happened. Mr. Hohensee and other representatives of the Forest Service gathered a large crowd of people interested in learning about and providing comments on the Kensington Draft Supplemental EIS. The crowd included miners, regulators, representatives of Native Corporations, small business owners, current and former local elected officials, office workers, hunters, fishers, kayakers and others. The assembled group did exactly what Mr. Hohensee might have hoped. They reviewed the maps and pictures, talked with each other and asked the assembled regulators questions about the project alternatives. They provided the type of public comments that are essential for regulatory agencies to have good information in order to make the types of decisions they are called on to make.

The public was heard. But something bad happened at that meeting. The Forest Service did not record any of the comments they heard that night. They took no notes, made no recordings. No audio, no video. They completely failed to capture the information they "heard." Whoosh.

All that effort and not one single thing that was said that night will be entered into the record. The EIS process will proceed without the benefit of the wealth of information shared, the questions asked and the answers heard. Why? Because the Forest Service decided they would "hear comments" without hearing them.

The Forest Service chose to call the one public meeting they intend to hold in Juneau on the Kensington Draft SEIS a "public meeting" instead of a "public hearing." In doing so they circumvented the National Environmental Policy Act requirement that they respond in the EIS process to the public comments they "hear" and rendered the oral public comments they received Feb. 24 meaningless in terms of the EIS. The Forest Service was wrong to do so and they harmed the public interest.

At this date it is impossible to recapture the information lost from the Feb. 24 meeting. The Forest Service, however, has a duty to make the public whole. The comment deadline for the Kensington Draft SEIS should be extended and a proper public hearing should be scheduled in Juneau.

Aaron Brakel


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