My Turn: Anti-mine letter writers miss points

Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2005

Just when it appeared the Kensington project may actually proceed, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council has filed a lawsuit to try once again to block Coeur Alaska from developing their permitted mine. Now comes the barrage of letters supporting this latest effort. There was one in the Empire on the same day the lawsuit story broke and three more the very next day, including one from Anchorage. I have to give SEACC and friends credit for a very well orchestrated campaign. These, and future, letters will all use the same old arguments why the Kensington should be blocked, but I still feel the need to comment.

"It will only provide short-term jobs." One once made a comparison to how Echo Bay promised a commitment to Juneau's future, then pulled out of town.

The best startup scenario for any business venture is designed to return capital investment as soon as possible and maximize profits. That is not a crime or a sin; it's business. Once a mine opens, however, the goal is to extend its life as much as possible through additional exploration and process improvements. For example, when the Greens Creek Mine opened in 1989, it had a projected life of 11 years. It has already operated 13 of the past 16 years, has at least nine more years of reserves, and is looking for more. The opposition groups are businesses too. They know the more they can delay the mine opening, the less likely it will. And don't be deceived by their calls for Coeur to follow the original permitted plan; they were just as opposed to it back in the '90s. They aren't stupid; they know it would be a show-stopper now. Even if Coeur decided today to work under the original permit, the same groups would still try and block them because of "new issues and concerns that weren't identified a decade ago." By the way, Echo Bay spent millions of dollars here and was committed to reopening the A-J Mine. They didn't pull out of town; they were run out.

"It will dump toxic waste into Lower Slate Lake." Coeur funded a sound, scientific toxicity study by an unbiased researcher that proved the tailings are not toxic. They may be inert, but they are not toxic; certainly no more toxic than the tons of untreated sediment naturally deposited into Berners Bay every year from the glaciers and surrounding watershed. I don't believe any group opposed to the mine has spent a dime to prove otherwise. Someone actually stated the toxicity study must have been biased because Coeur paid for it. Perhaps SEACC or the Sierra Club should have paid for it then. I have, however, noticed in some recent letters the tendency to use their newly found buzzwords: "chemically treated" versus "toxic."

"It will lead to the industrialization of Berners Bay." I believe "industrialization" is just another one of the token buzzwords that letter writers are supposed to use, but I suppose it depends on how one defines industrialized. In the dictionary, it is defined as "having highly developed industries." Then how do we define highly developed?

Assume a road, a dock, ferry service, a marine fueling facility and a barge or ship loading/off-loading facility is an industrial port. If that is the case, then Juneau must be a major industrial center, and there are more than a dozen other industrial ports in Southeast Alaska, making it the industrial hub of the North Pacific Rim. Tourists may as well visit Oakland to see marine wildlife.

"Most gold is used for jewelry." Yes, according to the 2005 Mineral Commodities Summaries, most (92 percent) gold is used for jewelry and the arts. Does it justify a mine? Those who don't own any gold jewelry do have a right to that opinion, but that's probably not a lot of folks. If the problem is gold jewelry, then wouldn't it be more effective to shun those who own it, boycott businesses that sell it and ban jewelers who make it? Mining companies are only providing a product people want; go after the real evil. On another note, does anyone believe that had the Kensington been a tungsten mine, the opposition would be less?

• Chris DeWitt is a geologist who lives and works in Douglas.

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