The Juneau Planning Commission voted 5-1 Tuesday night in favor of granting Goldbelt permission to build a ferry terminal and dock at Cascade Point to provide service to the Kensington Gold Mine.
City officials put 20 conditions on Goldbelt's operation, mostly to address environmental concerns at Cascade Point, on the east side of Berners Bay.
"There's a lot of conditions, but I think it's fair," said Goldbelt Vice President David Goade.
The ferry terminal and dock would be operated by Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation, to transport Kensington mine workers by catamaran each day across Berners Bay to Slate Creek Cove, where they would take a bus to the mine, 45 miles northwest of downtown Juneau.
Cascade Point is a cornerstone of the Kensington Mine's transportation plan, said Rick Richins, project director for Coeur Alaska, a subsidiary of Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. which is developing the proposed mine. The mine has not yet received final approval from state and federal regulators.
Goldbelt had hoped to expand its use of Cascade Point for future ventures. Critics of the proposal told the Planning Commission it should have required Goldbelt to address those uses in its proposed dock permit.
"We could limit the dock," Goade said. However, the commission did not act to limit the use of the dock.
Environmentalists raised concerns about possible affects on recreational users of Berners Bay and on herring, which spawn at Cascade Point three out of every 10 years, according to biologists.
Proponents complained that the dock has received an undue amount of scrutiny and restrictions by city officials, they said.
Teresa Germain, a Tlingit-Haida Central Council employee, said she doesn't see other Juneau harbors employing booms during fueling to contain spills or paying professional observers to scrutinize wildlife impacts. Those are two of the 20 conditions attached to the conditional-use permit for the dock.
"If you are going to make Goldbelt do it, I suggest that you look at everybody else in the community and make them do the same thing," Germain said.
Environmentalists said that the project could harm recreation at nearby Point Bridget State Park and cabins. They also criticized the city's review of the proposed dock for not addressing state coastal management regulations.
"The future of Cascade Point is in your hands," said Skip Gray, of the Friends of Berners Bay environmental group.
Goldbelt's 1996 master plan laid out four possibilities for marine support services at Cascade Point: mining, tourism, commercial fishing and the state ferries.
"You need to look at those uses now before the die is cast," said Buck Lindekugel of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
So far Kensington mine transportation is the only Cascade Point project for which Goldbelt has developed a formal proposal. To include other possible uses for Cascade Point in the current permit would require "a whole other series of public hearings," Goade testified.
He said later that the amount of review of the dock by regulators and city officials so far is "extraordinary," but perhaps appropriate given environmental concerns about Berners Bay raised by Juneau residents.
Lindekugel described the two-acre parking lot included in the dock permit as "Kmart sized." Goade responded that the amount of parking was "appropriate" to the project.
Commissioner Marshall Kendziorek said permit language should be amended to limit the parking lot to the size needed for Kensington mine workers. He lodged opposition to the permit, however, because he said it's incomplete.
Commissioner Mark Pusich disagreed, saying he thinks the permit application is complete.
The commission revised the permit to include Kendziorek's scaled-down parking lot amendment. Kendziorek was the lone commissioner voting against the permit. Commissioners Maria Gladziszewski and Peggy Ann McConnochie were absent.