Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005

Group says cleanup costs underestimated

ANCHORAGE - A report by a nonprofit group says the state has underestimated by about $145 million the cost of shuttering and cleaning up the six largest mines in Alaska.

The Center for Science in Public Participation, based in Bozeman, Mont., said the Department of Natural Resources has not collected enough money from the mining companies to protect the public.

With new large gold mining projects being planned in Alaska, such as Pebble and Donlin Creek, the organization wants DNR officials to pay attention, executive director David Chambers said this week.

"The findings in this report should push DNR to better calculate reclamation bonds to protect Alaska's taxpayers and mining communities," said Chambers, who has a master's in geophysics and doctorate in environmental planning, and is a longtime Alaska mine watcher.

The group looked at reclamation bonds posted by the operators of the Red Dog, Pogo, Kensington, Greens Creek, Fort Knox and True North mines.

The bonds are supposed to protect taxpayers from paying cleanup bills should the mining companies go broke. The bonds are intended to cover costs of properly handling wastewater, tailings and other aspects of the mine.

Tanker cleanup done for the year

ANCHORAGE - Environmental cleanup efforts are done for the year to repair the damage done when a soybean tanker broke up off Unalaska Island last December, spilling a large amount of fuel.

Work has been completed on more than three-fourths of the shoreline fouled by the spill left behind by the wreck of the Selendang Ayu. When the tanker lost power and broke up last December it spilled nearly 340,000 gallons of fuel oil and diesel, and tons of soybeans.

Salvage crews using huge tanks airlifted by helicopters managed to lighter another 142,000 gallons of fuel from the freighter's tanks.

State environmental officials are waiting to see whether the usually ferocious winter storms in the area finish the cleanup job on 26 remaining, partially cleaned areas on the island's west side.

Assessment teams will return next spring to see how things have changed, said Gary Folley, who coordinated the on-scene spill response for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He said Thursday cleanup decisions will look at whether additional human activities are more intrusive and damaging than the oil itself.

Mat-Su to consider ski area proposal

ANCHORAGE - The Mat-Su Assembly next week expects to review a development company's pitch for development at Hatcher Pass.

The plans include a $41 million ski area, lodge and hundreds of acres of residential development.

Some critics say the commercial village site could harm valuable salmon runs and could run into drainage problems.

Mat-Su Borough administrators in May asked the Legislature for title to 200 acres in the public use area.

If the Legislature grants the borough its 200 acres, JL Properties will get about 20 acres to develop into a commercial center on the banks of the Little Susitna River.

There is some disagreement over how close the buildings could get to the river.

JL Properties president Leonard Hyde hasn't determined exactly how far that development will be from the water's edge. He said even 200 feet sounds too far.

Fairbanks company produces road mats

FAIRBANKS - A small Fairbanks company is on the road to success as the Alaska and Russian Far East distributor of environmentally friendly polyethylene road mats. "This is the perfect solution to creating a road system in rural Alaska," says Dennis Swarthout, chief executive officer of Compositech LLC.

The mats were first employed to replace heavy wooden planks used on the slope by BP Exploration (Alaska) for roads over the tundra, and for drill site pads.

The 1,000-pound, 8x14-foot mats, produced by Dura-Base of Lafayette, La., interlock to form a strong, stable and uniform surface that has supported aircraft, tractors, loaders and tanks.

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