My Turn: Berners Bay shouldn't be sacrificed

Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2002

It was a surprisingly clear sky last Saturday as I sat in the Forest Service cabin in the northeast corner of Berners Bay, watching a small commercial fishing boat check crab pots along the opposite shore of the bay. It was mid-afternoon and the setting sun cast its last rays on the fresh snow of Lions Head Mountain.

We had just kayaked in from Echo Cove, passing a lone humpback whale in the lower part of the bay, wondering why the whale hadn't escaped to the warm Hawaiian waters like many Alaskans do in the rainy fall. As we rounded Cascade Point, two river otters paused during their swim to check us out. In the short, three-hour paddle to the cabin, we encountered harbor seals, Steller sea lions and a multitude of sea birds from small marbled murrelets to hefty loons.

As I stood on the deck of the cabin later in the evening, I reveled in the quietness and darkness. I tried to imagine what Berners Bay will be like when the Kensington Mine's 200-foot-long dock in Slate Creek lights up the night sky and the noise from generators and arriving barges cuts over the water. I tried to envision ferries making three to five roundtrips a day across the bay, shuttling workers from the dock behind a huge breakwater at Cascade Point to Slate Creek beneath Lions Head Mountain.

Any good Republican reading this letter (and probably more than a few Democrats) will sneer: "This is just typical tree-hugger drivel, likely written by some misfit environmental extremist who never had to feed a family or hold down a real job, like a mining job. Those jobs are good jobs, family-supporting jobs and developing Berners Bay as Juneau's northern industrial park is a small price to pay for getting Alaska moving forward, back to the good old days."

I fully appreciate the need for jobs that offer the worker good pay and good benefits. Even greenies need to buy groceries for our families - granola is not cheap. But I'm not prepared to sacrifice one of our borough's finest places by trading away public land into private ownership to expedite the development of mine by a company that nearly went bankrupt last spring. The jobs the mine would bring may be good ones, but they will be short-lived as the predicted operational life of the mine is only 10 years. And while the recent redesign of the project will save the owners millions dollars, we Alaskans pay the price of impacts from a huge amount of infrastructure at both ends of the bay.

Gov.-elect Murkowski's late night victory pushing the Cape Fox-Sealaska Land Exchange bill through the U.S. Senate is the first of many assaults on Alaskans' public lands and resources. Those of us who care about our land and our communities will need to work hard to protect the places we love - extremely hard.

Sue Schrader is a retired veterinarian and a "less-than-extreme" environmental activist who has lived and worked in Juneau for more than a decade.

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