AJ Mine battle should not be fought again

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010

When I reflect on life in Juneau, I cannot think of a nicer place to live. Sure, I like to visit new and exotic locations occasionally, but life here is very good. We share, I believe, a model sustainable community. We have a stable population and the City and Borough of Juneau is no worse off for that fact. We have steadily modernized our public and private infrastructure, our arts and recreation, and many other tangibles that make Juneau a unique, very special place to live. And our environs are spectacular. What more could we want?

Like most communities, we have debated an assortment of proposed civic, industrial and resource developments. In general, I think, the public processes have served Juneau well.

One debate in our recent history, however, was not so kind; that being over the effort, initiated in the late 1980s, to reopen the AJ Mine. A decade of bitter controversy that split Juneau in half followed. At issue were the short- and long-term cumulative social and environmental impacts the proposed urban mine would bring on Juneau. Following hundreds of thousands of community-volunteered hours and dollars expended in battle, the Echo Bay Mining Company finally abandoned a $100 million investment and ended this divisive proposal. One could argue that psychological scars of that battle linger, and will persist well beyond the proposed life of the project.

Given the depth of the scars, the AJ Mine project is one many (or, at least I) thought would not resurface, at least in my life. To see this project re-proposed by community "leaders" who had lived through the previous protracted battle was unthinkable. Is this simply the glitter of gold at $1,400 an ounce? What needs and pressures could possibly justify voluntarily reopening these wounds and initiating another heated, possibly decade-long battle?

Mayor Bruce Botehlo and the Juneau Assembly, in fairness to the obvious public discussion that must soon follow, need soon to explain who and what forces are promoting this striking proposal. The city does not need to study the money it can make in order to decide if we want to host this mine. And Juneau would hardly be unique, in recent times, to openly accept or reject commercial tenders to mine local environs for some short-term commercial gain. Let's not restart this battle because of political proclamations unaided by broad, enlightened community discussion and support.

Bob Marshall


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