My Turn: Let's deal with the facts on the Kensington Mine

Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2002

I love living in Juneau. One of the many reasons is that in a very short time I can be where there is no human presence, where I can have the illusion that this is how it looked the first time anyone ever saw this country. I am also aware, however, that to live here we have to have an economy that provides jobs. There will always be a tension over how we use our natural resources. I understand that, but what I don't understand is the need to go on the attack with hyperbole and half-truths when you disagree with the other side.

Sen. Murkowski has introduced SB 2222, which would exchange the land around the Kensington Mine to Cape Fox and Sealaska, for equal value land and mining claims on Revilla and Prince of Wales Islands. Almost the entire area, which extends inland from the northwest portion of Berners Bay, is already legally staked with federal mining claims, which give rights of surface entry and use of resources for mine development.

I've read Sen. Murkowski's bill and the proposed development plan for the Kensington carefully. I suggest reading them for yourself. So far I'm impressed with what seems to be a minimal impact project that could be a major boost to Juneau's economy and would not damage the use of Berners Bay. I have not found support for the claims and attacks that I have read recently in the paper

From my point of view the most important truth about Sen. Murkowski's bill is that nothing in the bill or the land exchange will eliminate the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. The only difference is the lead agency would be the Environmental Protection Agency or the Corps of Engineers instead of the Forest Service. I'm currently managing three EISs, one for each of these agencies, and can attest that there is no difference in the standards of protection for the environment nor opportunities for public involvement.

I sometimes become frustrated with some of the hoops for hoops' sake that can be part of the permitting process, but an EIS, at its heart, pours truth serum on a project and tells us what the real effects will be. When the Kensington EIS comes out, I will be reading it carefully to see if my original impressions pan out. In the meantime, it is clear what Sen. Murkowski's bill does and does not do:

• It would consolidate the Kensington and Jualin mines into a single mining district to simplify permitting.

• It would not short circuit environmental safeguards or public involvement.

• It would multiply the economic benefit to Juneau and Southeast by having lease payments go to local Native corporations where they will continue to ripple through our economy.

• It would not lead to clearcutting in Berners Bay - the timber on most of the exchange lands are not commercially viable and Cape Fox has pledged in writing it will not log the land.

Every human action, from hard-rock mining to producing the fiberglass for a kayak (I admit I have one) has environmental consequences. Each of us has to come to our own decisions about the related costs and benefits. In the past, mining done without environmental safeguards caused long-lasting environmental damage, but modern hard-rock mining, done right, can produce substantial economic benefits with minimal environmental effect. An informed discussion about such projects is useful, but scare tactics and half-truths are not.

The Kensington EIS will lay out for all of us what the real effects of the mine will be and will provide opportunities for all of us to be heard. Until then I suggest we refrain from tactics that divide us and make it harder to deal with real issues that face Juneau.

McKie Campbell is senior environmental manager for Michael Baker Jr. Inc. He has hunted, fished and boated in Juneau waters, including Berners Bay, for 23 years. He is not connected with the Kensington project, nor with any of the parties involved in the exchange.

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