Committee opts to wait on hoverbarge stand

Advisory group wants more information about Taku River plan

Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008

Juneau-Douglas Fish and Game advisory committee members met last night to take a stand on a Taku River hoverbarge proposal, but decided to table any decision making until they know more.

"We need all the information we can get," committee member Jake Carte said.

That's similar to what state agencies are doing. The departments of Fish and Game, Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation stopped the permit review clock for mine operator Redfern Resources Ltd. with questions about how the barging will work.

The process is now suspended indefinitely and will only restart once agencies are satisfied that Redfern's application is complete.

Once that happens, the committee will have four days to comment formally.

The state has dozens of local Fish and Game advisory boards. Their biggest job each year is to comment on proposals to change fishing and hunting regulations. But they also serve as a public forum, and can represent the community through comments on projects.

The advisory committee - many of whose members were newly elected last week - didn't know the agency was planning to stop the clock, which didn't happen until Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

Redfern, owned by Redcorp Ventures Ltd., wants to send a hoverbarge up and down the ice of the Taku River in winter. The barge is to be towed and pushed by what the company calls "amphibious tractors," either tracked or with big, soft tires, and accompanied by several other vehicles.

That will allow the company to operate the Tulsequah Chief multi-metal mine, 40 miles northeast of Juneau, nearly year-round. But to do so, Redfern must get two permits from Fish and Game and Natural Resources, and prove that the project is consistent with state and local coastal management policies.

With about 25 people in attendance, Wednesday's meeting was much smaller than the two informational sessions Redfern and the state previously held. That allowed more back-and-forth conversation between Redfern permitting manager Tim Davies, who had phoned in, and the Taku users present.

Attendees quizzed Davies on technical aspects of the plan: How many pounds per square inch would harm rearing salmon? Had he considered that the vehicle's sound in the water might harm them? What would the environmental monitoring be like?

Many of the questions were rhetorical, too, from Taku users who think the river's rich life will be harmed.

Floyd Kookesh of the Douglas Indian Association, gillnetter Jim Becker and Mark Vinsel, director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, cautioned the board to wait on a decision.

"We have a position opposing the transportation plan until the concerns of Fish and Game are met," Vinsel said.

The committee voted 6-3 to wait.

The motion came from Chris Conder, who said so far he's unconvinced the project will fly, but said he won't make a firm decision until he knows more.

This is Redfern's second permit application. The first permit process was suspended indefinitely to get more information from the company, and ultimately was cancelled when the plan changed.

Then, something similar happened; the committee tabled its decision to wait for the agencies and never took a stand.

Committee member Todd Wicks said he didn't need any more information to make a decision.

"I oppose the transportation plan," he said, clarifying the comment was not intended toward the mine.

• Contact Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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