Assembly hears public testimony on mining ordinance

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Representatives from the Greens Creek Mining Co. and the Kensington Mine Project asked the Juneau Assembly on Monday night to make an expedient decision on the fate of a proposed mining ordinance. If the Assembly adopts the ordinance, Greens Creek wouldn't have to apply for a new permit for its tailings facility expansion.

Greens Creek is a polymetallic mine operating on Admiralty Island. The Kensington is a gold mine about 45 miles north of downtown Juneau that is making plans to begin operations.

The city adopted the current mining ordinance in 1986 and revised it in 1989. The ordinance outlines the permitting process for Juneau mines, and calls on the city to review a mine's possible effects on air and water quality, hazardous and toxic material, safety and other items such as traffic, noise, dust, landslides and erosion. The proposed ordinance would create a rural mine designation and make rural mines "allowable uses," which carry fewer conditions than the current "conditional use" permits.

Rich Heig, the general manager of Greens Creek, said if the ordinance proposal is approved before the end of the comment period on the mine's draft EIS, the mine would be able to apply for summary approval of its existing permit, rather than for a new permit altogether. The comment period ends June 9.

The Kensington project is seeking permits to begin mining. Rick Richens, the senior vice president of Coeur Alaska, which owns Kensington, said the project's draft environmental impact statement is due out late this summer. Under the current ordinance, developers can't apply for a city permit until after the draft EIS is issued. But if the Assembly passes the proposed ordinance before then, the project could get moving faster, Richens said.

Several people testified against the ordinance Monday night. Juneau resident Bruce Baker brought up what he said was Assembly member Randy Wanamaker's conflict of interest. Wanamaker chairs the Assembly's Lands Committee and led the ordinance revision effort. He recused himself from discussion of the ordinance last week after concerns were raised about his involvement in the mining industry.

Wanamaker is chairman of Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation, and has worked as an environmental consultant to the mining industry. Assembly members asked City Attorney John Corso for an official finding on whether Wanamaker's involvement in the process was a conflict of interest. That finding was to be released today.

But Baker said Wanamaker's recusal wasn't enough.

"To the extent that Mr. Wanamaker does have a conflict of interest, it calls into question this entire process," Baker said. Baker asked the Assembly to appoint a "neutral and financially disinterested" member of the Assembly to investigate the matter.

Joyce Levine told Assembly members they would be doing the city a great disservice if they gave up their oversight with respect to rural mines. "You're here to protect us. By giving that responsibility over to somebody else, you're giving away your responsibility to the city," she said.

But others argued the proposal would encourage industry growth.

Juneau attorney Eric Twelker said the ordinance would send the message that "Juneau is open for business." Wayne Bertholl said the city must stay away from "excessive multi-layered government."

"We as a state, compared to the rest of this grand nation, have more resources which could be developed than all the other states combined. If you don't have exports, you're not in the game," Bertholl said.

Also during Monday's meeting, Assembly member Jim Powell said that he had checked with the city attorney on his own potential conflict of interest. Powell works for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"I have a very limited small oversight of one of the permits that hasn't even come up yet, but I suspect it will. If that comes before us, I will step down," Powell said.

The Assembly voted to have another work session on the ordinance proposal Friday at noon, and plans to take it up again during its May 19 meeting.

Masha Herbst can be reached at

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