Metlakatla mayor hopes to rebuild economy on rock

Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The Metlakatla Indian Community is hoping a ``super-quarry'' on Annette Island will save its struggling economy.

The rock is so hard it has been breaking the drills used to pull samples for testing, said Metlakatla Mayor Sol Atkinson.

``The contractor is sort of unhappy because he continues to break drills because the rock is so hard,'' Atkinson said. ``It's not too positive for the contractor, but it's very positive for us because it is very hard rock.''

The rock is hard enough to be marketable for roadbeds, boat harbors and other construction projects. So far, the community, with help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Program, has spent a half-million dollars on geological tests. The results show the rock would be ``excellent for development,'' said Faline Haven, director of forestry for Metlakatla.

Rock for Southeast roads is often imported from British Columbia or Washington, Atkinson said. He hopes to reverse the trade, barging rock from Metlakatla down the coast.

``Our marketing study shows that, yes, the market is there for what we hope to mine,'' Atkinson said.

The rock includes white, blue and mahogany colored marble, which Atkinson expects will also be sold and used for items from headstones to architecture.

``One of these days we'll have columns of marble and steps of marble,'' Atkinson said.

The quarry could operate for 100 years, employing 100 people full-time, Atkinson said. No wonder people in Metlakatla, where there's 80 percent unemployment since the mill closed last fall, are calling it the ``super-quarry.''

Haven laughs at the term.

``It's not like a super-quarry or a mega-quarry, it's just like an aggregate quarry,'' she said.

She can't quell the mayor's enthusiasm though. He's asked five state and federal agencies for help training people in Metlakatla to work in the quarry, so the jobs will go to residents. About 60 people could be employed in the quarry itself, and another 40 in support positions, providing jobs for a third of Metlakatla's work force, Atkinson said.

``It's designed to create jobs for our people,'' Atkinson said. ``In about a year and half we would be able to start drilling, blasting and mining.''

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