My turn: Who wasn't surprised by the Cascade Point Issue?

Posted: Sunday, December 23, 2007

I question the veracity of Mayor Bruce Botelho's recent press release regarding the secret negotiations over Cascade Point. He insists that no one should be surprised that Goldbelt's facility at Cascade Point was sacrificed at the demand of the environmental organizations. It would be a good point, except that everyone was surprised, especially those of us at Goldbelt.

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Mayor Botelho says the representatives of the environmental organizations, in testimony on Aug. 20 before the Juneau Assembly, specifically identified Cascade Point as an issue to be resolved. Yet in the transcript of Buck Lindekugel's testimony on behalf of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Cascade Point is not even mentioned and Lindekugel insisted that the only issue remaining to be settled was the method and location of tailings disposal.

But, like everyone else except for Mayor Botelho and those who were party to the secret negotiations, we at Goldbelt were shocked to learn that our 14 years of time, effort and investment at Cascade Point is to be rendered pointless, by negotiations to which we were not a party.

For Coeur Alaska it was no doubt a bottom line issue. The company has invested more than $238 million, and for more than 18 years it has contributed the time and effort to open the mine. We are not happy that Coeur Alaska caved on the issue of Cascade Point when the environmentalists held it hostage to an overall agreement, but apparently they chose to do so in the belief it would hasten the opening of the Kensington Mine.

I think it is important to us that our shareholders, and the many other Alaskans who were employed at the mine, are able to go back to their jobs. But I am not confident the environmentalists will keep their word on this agreement.

From our standpoint, the secret negotiations present an ethical issue that is certainly a violation of good faith: Mayor Botelho, an official of the city and borough of Juneau, was involved in a secret agreement that denies an Alaska Native corporation the quiet enjoyment of its right to develop settlement land. He did not protect the rights of 3,000 of his constituents and not one of his Native constituents was in the room when they cut the deal.

An equally important issue is that the Sierra Club and SEACC have abrogated a long-standing, solemn commitment made by those organizations more than 30 years ago when Goldbelt agreed to move its land selections off of Admiralty Island. In a My Turn column (on Dec. 15), Russell Heath of SEACC claims no one he contacted recalls the agreement. He did not contact me. There was an agreement, I was there. Maybe they have forgotten, but I have not.

We selected our lands at Echo Cove and at other locations in an agreement that led to the designation of 90 percent of Admiralty Island as a wilderness area. Part of the agreement was the promise that the environmental organizations would not oppose the private property rights that came with our newly selected lands. We selected these lands to meet the intent of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, to meet the real economic and social needs of Natives with maximum participation in decisions affecting our rights and property.

In their efforts to stop the mine, the environmental organizations have proven themselves willing to sacrifice their relationship with Alaska Natives and they are willing to cause harm to an already economically distressed minority group.

I cannot speak on behalf of all nine directors of Goldbelt, but at last count we were unanimous: We will protect the civil rights of our shareholders and we will complete a marine facility at Cascade Point.

• Bob Loescher is a Goldbelt director and shareholder, the former President and CEO of Sealaska Corp., a longterm delegate to the Tlingit and Haida Central Council and councilman for Juneau Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp 2. He also served on the last Juneau City Council and the first Assembly of Juneau.

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