My Turn: Red Dog mine important to people of northwest Alaska

Posted: Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Inupiat family has lived in the northwest arctic for generations. I am a NANA shareholder and I am employed by Teck Alaska. That makes me a landowner and operator.

This land has provided sustenance for my people for generations and we continue to live off this land today. Red Dog has become our modern-day harvest. It is the livelihood for me and many others. We Inupiat are in the best position to ensure that our land is well cared for as we develop its natural bounty for our much needed economic benefit.

I take very seriously our responsibility of stewardship of the land, animals and waters. I am not an expert in environmental, biological or mineral studies. However, being on the inside, I know that Red Dog holds itself to a high standard of environmental care.

After 20 years of mining, Red Dog's main deposit is almost mined out. For the mine to continue, we need to move operation into the adjacent Aqqaluk deposit. Red Dog has worked for the past two years with federal, state and local agencies to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to support the water discharge permit needed to mine Aqqaluk.

The state approved the permit in mid December and the Environmental Protection Agency issued the permit on Jan. 8. Days later, though the State certified that the permit was compliant, two environmental law firms appealed EPA's action, claiming that certain provisions were not in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Red Dog could be shut down in October 2010 if permit delays go beyond May 2010.

Red Dog mine workers are some of the best people I know. Recently, we were reminded by a visitor that it takes a special person to work in a remote arctic site away from home and loved ones. We're our own close-knit and diverse community. More than half of our workforce is from the northwest Alaska region; the majority of the remainder from throughout the state of Alaska, and the rest from the lower 48 and other parts of the world.

We have more than 500 regular Red Dog employees. Not only will these individual workers be negatively affected, but most of us have at least three immediate family members who rely on our livelihood. Others have more who rely on them for support. We are threatened by an appeal filed by outsiders.

It will directly affect 1,500 people at a minimum.

It will shut down our Red Dog community; take away our livelihood at a time when our economy is struggling. These "environmentalists" are using the regulatory appeal system not to benefit the environment but to further their cause and harm us.

Red Dog proactively reaches out to people within the region. We gather with each community and engage in dialogue with regard to what Red Dog's activities are and what opportunities are available.

We visit with students at the middle and high schools and inform them of the opportunities for training and careers. We encourage them to set goals, to pursue their dreams whether it is a career in mining or any other endeavor. We bring students to the mine for job shadowing and provide scholarships. We create and support community partnerships.

Red Dog contributes statewide through tax payments and through the royalty it pays NANA. Under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, NANA shares the majority of that royalty with other Alaska Native corporations.

In December 2008, NANA paid $121.7 million to other Native corporations that contribute to their remote, local economies. Red Dog's contribution to the borough government has allowed for improved educational infrastructure and technology for students in an area of our state where access to quality education and tools are an ongoing challenge.

Red Dog is not just about mining and the environment; it's also about people. Care for the environment, we do, but care for the people, too. Withdraw the appeal; find an alternative way to address the real issue without harm to our future.

• Verna Westlake works in community relations at Teck Alaska Inc. Red Dog Mine. E-mail her at Verna.Westlake@teck.com.



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