The Juneau Planning Commission unanimously forwarded an ordinance to the Juneau Assembly on Tuesday that would speed permitting by reducing local review of large rural mines in the Juneau area.
In doing so, commissioners asked the Assembly to pay particular attention to their individual comments about permit timing, socioeconomic studies and other issues.
The commission spent more than two hours Tuesday listening to testimony for and against a slate of proposed changes to the city's mining ordinance. The revisions, which were introduced by the Juneau Assembly's Lands Committee, would make a new rural mine an allowable use not subject to permitting conditions covered by state and federal environmental reviews.
Commissioner Dan Bruce said the proposal fits in with a Planning Commission goal to simplify the city's regulatory process.
"It seems to me that 95 percent of this decision is really a policy decision which is in the hands of the Assembly," he said. "This is consistent with our goals internally, but it's up to the Assembly whether they agree that there are adequate protections existing under and federal and state law."
Under the proposed ordinance, the Planning Commission could add conditions to a rural mine permit relating to traffic, lighting, noise, safety, dust, visual screening, surface subsidence, avalanches, landslides and erosion. The city's Community Development Department director or the Planning Commission could give summary approval to changes at an existing rural mine.
The new ordinance would delete requirements for a city socioeconomic study for rural mines, relying instead on federal socioeconomic reviews.
But a local socioeconomic impact study could be in Juneau's best interest if the city wants to respond to mining-related changes in town, according to a memo from Community Development staff. Federal reviews historically address environmental impacts more thoroughly than social and economic impacts, staff members wrote.
Commissioner Marshal Kendziorek said a socioeconomic study allows the city to plan for the positive and negative economic effects from a mine. He also suggested the Assembly expand the list of mine permit conditions the Planning Commission can address to include habitat issues, at the least.
"I personally think it should remain a conditional use permit, not an allowable use," he said. "It may be difficult for the applicant, but I think that is appropriate. That in many ways is the price of democracy and the price of democracy is expensive."
Commissioner Maria Gladziszewski said a federal EIS might not include details about economic issues important to Juneau, such as a mine's impact on the local housing market.
"It usually turns out the mine is an economic benefit to the city," she said. "There are local issues that are clearly local issues that the (National Environmental Policy Act) process is just not concerned with. I hesitate to give that up because the Planning Commission should be concerned."
Several commissioners suggested the city better define the timing for the city permits in relation to state and federal processes. The city should avoid approving a project without information from state and federal project reviews, commission Chairman Johan Dybdahl said.
Commissioners also suggested the city's Community Development Department director be given more time to review a project for summary approval. The new ordinance gives the director 30 days to make a determination, with an additional 20 days to gather more information if needed. Department Director Dale Pernula said the agency may need more time.
"That's enough time if we didn't have a lot of other applications on the table at the same time," he said. "I'd recommend it at least be doubled on the initial time."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.