Chamber says SEACC can stay

Board president says members have 'open door policy'

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council will be allowed to keep membership in the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, which has an "open door policy," chamber board President Jim Becker said Tuesday.

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Critics of the environmental group lambasted it during the public part of the board meeting, saying SEACC can't be trusted and that it "masquerades as an educational organization."

The board members later discussed the issue during a session that barred members of the public, chamber members and the media. No vote was taken.

"The (chamber) has an open-door policy with a base of nearly 400 members. We aren't always going to have like opinions," Becker said in a prepared statement.

SEACC's membership status in the business organization was in limbo recently after some members of the chamber questioned whether the group should be permitted to stay "due to their stance on various issues related to development in the community," Becker's statement said.

Most recently, a coalition of environmental groups spearheaded by SEACC won a 9th Circuit Court ruling over a proposed tailings facility at the Kensington Mine, about 45 miles north of downtown Juneau. The mining company Coeur Alaska had planned to dump its waste rock in an alpine lake, but will need to find a new method or try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Becker said the lawsuit has angered several people in the community and there has been resentment against what he called a "national" environmental organization blocking a good project for Southeast Alaska. He said SEACC receives much of its funding from Outside donors, which is why it could be considered a national organization.

During an open board meeting held just prior to the closed session, some board members took the chance to confront SEACC's executive director Russell Heath with impassioned concerns about how the environmental organization has fought development battles such as that over the Kensington mine.

"People are very concerned that litigation is war," board member Kathleen Frederick said. "Sometimes this litigation can go on for 15 years. Then what happens to a financially viable project?"

"You are masquerading as an educational organization," said board member Neil MacKinnon. He said the chamber would not allow a company like Enron in its midst and neither should they allow SEACC.

"It is not what they do. It's how they operate," he said.

Board member Bob Martin said he couldn't trust SEACC in a working relationship, but he did not believe it should be forced from the chamber.

"We can't trust what SEACC says. We can only respond to what SEACC does," he said.

"I think there is a value in having a tiger well-fed in your living room rather than stalking in the backyard," he said.

Both Martin and MacKinnon have financial ties to the Kensington project.

Prior to the closed session, Heath asked the chamber to allow the environmental group to keep its membership.

"I think there is a value in knowing each other and not throwing bombs," he said.

Being a part of the business organization provides opportunity to communicate, particularly on tough topics, and helps them do their own jobs better.

"It gets us out of our bunker mentality," he said.

Dick Knapp, a board member, said he had a hard time believing SEACC's words when it continues to file lawsuits over development projects.

"Hell, we aren't even on the road yet and you have a lawsuit against it," he said.

Heath said that it might be true that SEACC has filed numerous lawsuits, but "it is the tendency in this country when somebody gets the short end, they file lawsuits," he said. "I meant my words sincerely."

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com or 523-2276.



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