Private profit over public use

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2004

It baffles and saddens me to follow the pending fall of yet another wild public place into the destructive hands of short-term, private interests. I refer to Coeur Alaska's Kensington Gold Project in Berners Bay, north of Juneau.

I wonder how many of Coeur Alaska's executives have ever kayaked across Berners Bay? Hiked on the amazing tidal flats and beach grasses at the end of the bay? Witnessed the three magnificent rivers firsthand? Have they tried navigating around rafts of 50-100 Steller sea lions, a threatened species, regularly resting and socializing in the middle of the bay? Paddled above the thick, dark, endless streams of millions of schooling eulachon and herring along the shores in the spring? Listened to humpback whales, an endangered species, slowly working around the bay, all night long? Immersed themselves in the clouds of seagulls, eagles, and shorebirds that crowd the end of the bay during the herring and eulachon runs? Counted tens of harbor seals fishing up the rivers during high tide? This is Berners Bay as I know it. This place is irreplaceable, critically important sanctuary for wildlife and people.

I wonder how the Kensington Gold Project will shatter this picture? Regular boat and barge traffic traversing the bay from Cascade Point to Slate Creek Cove, three to five round trips daily? What will this traffic do to the noise in the bay, above and under the surface? How about air quality? What about an increased risk of oil spills? Where will the sea lions now rest, feed, and socialize undisturbed? How about the humpbacks and harbor seals? What about those of us who need Berners Bay for consolation or solitude?

What is this framework of moral values or balance of interests that places, time after time, private profit over public use? Short-term over long-term planning? Extractive over protective use? What is this framework that accepts alternatives that will result in significant environmental damage because less destructive alternatives - which exist - would cost more? When are we finally going to consider ecological harm in our economic analyses? When are we going to consider the economic benefits from preserving an area in its natural state? When will it finally become morally unacceptable to reap profit margins off the environment and the public's back? Isn't there something fundamentally corrupt in this whole scene?

Iris Korhonen


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