Wishful thinking in Berners Bay

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I've lived in Juneau for 33 years. When I arrived, a company wanted to build a plywood plant at Berners Bay. It would bring jobs. Juneauites who valued the environment over money united to stop permitting of the mill because they valued the environment over money.

Times have changed. The major changes began when Echo Bay Mining Co. tried to reopen the AJ mine. They told the planning commission and the Assembly that the runoff would not harm Gold Creek. Our elected and appointed officials cheerfully provided the necessary permits.

One day my old dog and I walked down to Cope Park and saw dead fish belly-up in Gold Creek. The mining company claimed it didn't have a clue what happened. Documents uncovered later confirmed that an employee had released contaminants without a permit under a cloak of darkness to avoid detection. Fish all dead from oil, chemicals and assorted other gook.

In an event of deja vu, about a week ago Coeur Alaska spilled contaminants near the Kensington Mine. According to the Empire article that reported on the accident, this is Coeur's third spill since construction of the mine began in early July. That makes a rate of about one spill per month. This time it spilled hydraulic fluid from a core drill into Slate Creek Cove, the same place it spilled diesel oil in September. Looks like we have another fish-kill waiting to happen.

Juneau, wake up and smell the coffee. How many "small spills" does it take to damage the crucial ecosystem of Berners Bay? As with the AJ mine, promises made by the company may be expediently broken when the money runs out or when public spin simply cannot hold up to reality.

As did the Juneau residents of the 1970s, we must realize the irreparable damage possible from industrial operations carried out in a fragile natural environment. Judgments about environmental safety of siting mines must be based on reality and not wishful thinking of government and industry.

Jerry Madden


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