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The Juneau Assembly's Lands Committee on Monday approved changes to the city's mining law to make it easier for mines to open and operate in rural Juneau.
The committee unanimously approved a draft ordinance that would ease city permitting in rural areas of the Juneau borough. Under the proposal, a new rural mine would be considered an allowable use and wouldn't be subject to permitting conditions that are covered by federal or state environmental reviews. The proposal also would allow the city's community development director to give "summary approval" to changes at an existing mine.
The Juneau Planning Commission would retain some oversight. For example, commissioners could add conditions to new rural mine relating to traffic, safety, noise, landslides, erosion and other issues.
Lands Committee Chairman Randy Wanamaker said the new process relies on state and federal environmental reviews, but retains control over traditional local issues.
"We did not eliminate permitting at the city, we have just made it a more efficient process by relying on state and federal expertise for state and federal responsibilities instead of duplicating them at the city process," he said. "We've just accepted that the city and state permits are proof that they're adequate and then we focus on our traditional municipal responsibilities."
The existing ordinance requires the city review all large mines for socio-economic impacts, air and water quality, safety and hazardous materials. It also addresses other impacts such as traffic, noise, dust, landslides and erosion.
The changes could benefit a proposed tailings facility expansion at the Kennecott Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island and plans to reopen Coeur Alaska's Kensington mine north of Berners Bay. Both projects would be classified as rural under the new ordinance. The two companies supported the proposed changes.
Assembly members considered adding wording to the draft ordinance to consider a mine's effects on local employment, but ultimately left it out. Assembly member Jeannie Johnson said the issue could be addressed through a memorandum of understanding with mining companies.
"I didn't ask to put it in this draft ordinance because I think this draft is going to go through several iterations before it ends back up with the Assembly," she said. "I was pleased with the fact that at least Greens Creek offers a relocation benefit for some of its employees. I just want to make sure we keep as many jobs in the region as we can."
Greens Creek General Manager Rich Heig said Monday that 75 percent of the mine's employees live in Juneau and 10 percent live elsewhere in Alaska. The mine encourages people to live in Juneau, but it isn't always possible, he said. Mining companies have sponsored training in Juneau and likely would do so again, he said.
The Lands Committee listened to about two hours of public testimony about the proposed changes on Saturday. While some people argued the changes would benefit Southeast Alaska's economy, others said the regulations are needed to protect local residents. Laurie Ferguson Craig, who asked the committee to keep the ordinance as is, said the city's process encourages local involvement.
"Duplicativeness should not be looked at as a negative," she said. "What these efforts do is simply dovetail with each other to be sure that people's concerns are addressed and aired."
The mining proposal will go to the Juneau Planning Commission on April 22 and to the full Assembly for more review and comment. Assembly members Dale Anderson and Merrill Sanford also are on the Lands Committee.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.