Alaska-Juneau mine cleaned and closed up

Shutdown marks end of controversial era for city

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2000

The Alaska-Juneau gold mine is again a quiet piece of Juneau history.

Some 15 years since Echo Bay Alaska began studying the possibility of reopening the downtown gold mine, the A-J has been cleaned up to the court's satisfaction and is now formally closed.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks signed the final order Thursday, finding that Kvaerner Environmental -- hired by Echo Bay to close the mine -- had accomplished the court-approved closeout plan.

``I would say that Kvaerner has left it in a better condition than when Echo Bay went in to use the mine,'' said Sally Schlichting, contaminated site project manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

She said lubricating oils and diesel fuel spilled during Echo Bay's stay have all been cleaned up, with remaining pollutants restricted to historic areas of the mine where Echo Bay didn't operate.

Part of the cleanup, she said, was pumping out 186 million gallons of water from the mine. She said that today there is ``no risk posed'' to Juneau's water from contaminants left in the mine. Juneau gets much of its drinking water from wells in Last Chance Basin -- near the A-J.

``The water supply is completely safe,'' she said.

Pollutants are left over from the A-J's heyday, when the mine was producing about 150,000 ounces of gold a year. Some of them were cleaned up by Kvaerner, said Schlichting and Joe Petrillo, spokesman for Kvaerner.

Some such pollutants were determined to be too risky to get at because of their location, he said.

``It was unsafe for anybody to go down there,'' he said.

Gold was discovered in Juneau in 1880, with underground mining in the A-J area starting in 1903. The initial mining operation ended in 1944. The rusting remains of those days are scattered about downtown.

Echo Bay took over the lease on the A-J in 1985, and started looking into opening the site to a gold mining operation. In 1997, the company decided the economics weren't right given low gold prices. According to the city, Echo Bay spent about $100 million before giving up on the mine.

Almost exactly three years ago, Echo Bay signed a contract with Kvaerner to have the company meet the environmental requirements to close the mine. It is now sealed and locked.

The amount Echo Bay paid Kvaerner for the work is confidential, said Petrillo.

The company paid the city $250,000 for a cleanup monitoring fund, which is intended to cover the expense of the city keeping an eye on the mine for any problems, Petrillo said.

The mine critics group Alaskans for Juneau had a lot to do with publicizing what was going on at the mine site. In 1998, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that federal investigators had recommended charges be filed against Echo Bay Alaska for pollution at the mine. No such charges were brought.

The group's Skip Gray said today that the mine's closure is a good thing, but he said regulators need to be vigilant over the site to make sure Juneau's water supply isn't tainted in the future.

``Obviously we're glad it's over,'' Gray said. ``It took a lot of work for a lot of people to keep an eye on things. At this point, they're saying everything's cool, it's been cleaned up, but I think there are still potential problems up there.''

Kvaerner's Petrillo said the company will now reduce its presence in Juneau, but will be sticking around. Work on the A-J, he said, could be a ``springboard'' for Kvaerner to get more work stemming from the state's various resource development projects.

``We're very interested in business opportunities in Alaska,'' he said.



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