My turn: Sculptor proposes good use for tailings

Mineral waste can be used to create barriers to save Alaska coastal villages from erosion

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2007

There is a qualified solution to the present directives regarding the disposal of mine tailings. In agreeing with the content of the following proposal, we can create a product of "environmental importance," and a new era of mineral waste disposal can commence.

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Over the years, there have been serious obstacles to collaborate environmental agencies' goals and the mining industry's objectives. These matters generated massive litigation in the courts, spanning years, while extending division into community planning and the work force. What is needed is a remedy that all parties will applaud within the confines of a genuine scientific solution.

The team has researched the mining dry stack methods for waste mineral storage and displacement. In entering the 21st century, a more innovative perspective is prudent to alter the term of "mineral waste" and convert the mineral waste into an inert substance and a much-needed asset. The discarded ore tailings would be processed into a device that actually assists greatly in mending a naturally occurring environmental and ecological phenomena.

That we have an erosion crisis in Alaska coastal villages is a present and factual event. It is estimated that it will require $300 million to relocate one entire community due to coastal erosion. Issues of flooding, embankment support is noted nationwide and presently requires an engineering focus on retainment and drainage systems. The applications to implement a permanent erosion barrier in this proposal is significant to future tidal cycles and encroachment, as sea levels are reported to be climbing. Under the present conditions, reported by a recent symposium of scientists, tidal inland flooding is a real and active concern. A permanent erosion barrier is reasonable, and a list of potential sites is registered.

I propose that we develop the following:

1) Encase the waste tailings in one of several formulas adding a bonding agent rendering the substance inert to any chemical reaction involving oxygen or water. The projected caliber of charted hardness is scaled at 7 to 7.5. The team can develop the equation locking any active agent into an inert substance acceptable by any Environmental Protection Agency standard.

2) Specify barrier dimensions and equipment specifications needed to transfer the material. The estimated size could be 8 feet high, 5 feet wide and up to 30-plus feet in length. Produced in varying sizes, a single barrier could weigh more than 30 tons.

3) Construct dual purpose containment molds. The same compartment to mix the three-part formula also acts as a curing station and is reassembled for a new pour after the product is set and released. Interlocking beveled sides strengthen the finished units when placed in an expanded series. Foundational inserts allow stockable barriers (if in time it is required).

4) Assemble the barrier in a series or as a containment platform to protect against any future erosion at sites agreed to require instillation by state officials or the Army Corps of Engineers.

There are several avenues to consider in the construction of a portable barrier plant. The specifications to underline a time frame to produce an effective barrier can be operational within a responsible period of time.

The clear issue is that a mineral ore waste substance, considered a poisonous environmental hazard is now transformed into a protector of the environment and can prove its mission on a daily basis. I submit that all mine tailings should be designated to the task of constructing barriers. The resources are available, and the task of protecting Alaska coastal communities can be realized.

Another aspect of a permanent erosion barrier is its function to enhance the landscape. If we are to build a wall to combat erosion in the 21st century, why not make it memorable?

During production, the containment molds are inserted with another mold. Artistic images of detailed reliefs are preserved in a durable mold material. The mold process will allow any image to be duplicated thousands of times, basically refacing the stable ore tailings into a historic landmark. Each side of the barrier can depict a series of culturally significant panels that will remain historic for generations, the nature of which is educational.

It is imagined that the entire population of Alaska would be supportive and thrilled to witness such an undertaking. Lands being protected, communities saved; a hopeless resource becomes a useful. How ironic. Litigation could be eliminated and just perhaps the mining industry and the EPA could be shaking hands on the issue of tailings.

• R.D. Robinson acknowledges to be the sole inventor of the stated barrier concept and ore tailings storage and removal project, noting protection of intellectual property under federal authorities. He lives in Juneau and is a teacher and sculptor. His works include the three heads on the Marine View Building downtown and those at the Shrine of St. Therese.

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