Open Kensington Mine with attention to law, not agendas

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2007

I support opening the Kensington Mine. The basis for my support is related to Juneau's continued economic prosperity and community development. Done right, the mine could be a boon to Juneau. Unfortunately, the discussion about whether and how to open the Kensington Mine, as well as the plans put forward by the mine company, have been hijacked by ideologues prone to hyperbole.

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The real prize with opening the Kensington Mine is the payroll associated with the mining project. A viable mining operation is exactly the kind of economic activity Juneau needs to maintain a vibrant and robust economy. Properly completed, the Kensington Mine will create dozens of high-value jobs and numerous ancillary employment opportunities.

Juneau's population is rapidly aging and essentially stagnant. The Juneau economy is, in many ways, flat-lined and not very diversified. Juneau would benefit from having the kind of economic growth associated with high-value mining jobs. Just as importantly, Juneau needs good paying jobs in the private sector for younger individuals.

So why has the Kensington Mine become such a source of contention and acrimony in our community? Much of the delay in opening the Kensington Mine rests squarely with the failed policies and odd promotion of the Kensington prospect by the company management working in alliance with the previous state administration. It is now abundantly clear that the administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski encouraged the Kensington Mine management to pursue a discredited and unnecessary mine tailings disposal proposal that was bound to conflict with federal law as well as agitate fishing, conservation and recreation interests.

The failure of the Kensington Mine management to obtain legal authorization for the tailings disposal is now a matter of painful record. Sure, the mine received an initial permit but that was largely a triumph of political arm-twisting and goofball politics, not considered legal reasoning.

In addition to obvious legal problems related to the mine tailings, the opening of the Kensington Mine has gotten swept up in the now familiar hysteria regarding the Juneau Access Study. The usual Juneau suspects that continuously attempt to argue all of Juneau's issues and problems will be solved by building the expensive and discredited "Road to Nowhere" have blended the road and mine proposal together to the detriment of the mine and the community of Juneau.

Additionally, the management of the Kensington Mine has undertaken a number of dubious public relations gimmicks that have polarized the community without furthering the mine project. The constant drum beat of advertisements calling on conservation organizations to withdraw legal challenges, the repeated placement of paid advertising touting jobs at the mine as well as the various public pronouncements in support of the mine to the ideologically convinced have yielded nothing. Statements calling into question the motives of conservation groups by the current manager of the Kensington Mine to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce audience typically are greeted with a big round of applause and approval but sensible observers wonder, what is the point?

A sound proposal to develop the Kensington Mine is both desirable and possible. Gold, the primary metal to be mined at the Kensington Mine, is trading at more than $800 an ounce. Why can't we get this particular project open in a way that makes money for the mine and in a manner that doesn't violate the law or harm the environment? Too often, management at the Kensington Mine has pursued an irresponsible policy of listening to zealots and posturing in the press instead of finding a way to obtain the necessary legal permits necessary to open the mine.

It's time to do the job right at the Kensington Mine. Opening the Kensington Mine is the best thing that could happen for Juneau's economic and community development, but only if the mine is opened according to the law and without regard to all the whacky agendas that routinely cause so much civic dissent in Juneau.

• Joe Geldhof is a Juneau attorney.

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