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Gold miners outraged at critical Nome letter

Posted: July 30, 2014 - 9:33pm

NOME (AP) — Nome gold miners are expressing outrage about a city letter citing the “negative social impacts” of their industry.

Miners stormed the Nome City Council meeting Monday night to voice their anger about the July 15 letter to the state Department of Natural Resources from city manager Josie Bahnke. In the letter, Bahnke wrote to DNR Commissioner Joe Balash that there has been some economic benefit from offshore mining, but those benefits are outweighed by negative social impacts, KNOM reported.

The letter refers to a 2011 lease sale that opened up the offshore dredging boom that brought millions in revenues for the state, but left Nome without money to accommodate increased port activity. The city is responsible for new costs, such as extra employees.

But miners at Tuesday’s meeting were upset over a perceived slight by officials.

“We’re feeling like you’re throwing rocks at us the way some of this is written,” said Kenny Hughes with the Nome chapter of the Alaska Mining Association.

Bahnke said the city has not heard anything from the Department of Natural Resources since June. She apologized for any connotations in the letter, saying “it’s more or less, I guess, in response to the frustration with no response from DNR.”

Many of the miners attending the meeting took umbrage with the claim that their work brings only “some economic benefit” to Nome.

“I’m an American,” said Homer resident Vern Atkinson, who owns a dredging operation in Nome and is financially compensated by the Discovery Channel for appearing in its “Bering Sea Gold” reality show. “And when I come to Nome, I’m a citizen of Nome — I got just as many rights as anybody else around here. I’m not taking a backseat to anybody.”

Atkinson said officials are sharing in the benefits of his industry. Council member Stan Anderson, however, said municipal entities such as the port get very little of those revenues, only about 5 percent.

When miners pushed for a definition of “negative social impacts,” Mayor Denise Michels said there was an increase in heroin and methamphetamine use.

“Those are some of the social issues that are happening in Nome,” she said.

Nome resident and miner Bob Haffner said neither the city nor the industry is doing enough to accommodate each other’s needs.

“We need to make some room, too, guys,” he said. “It’s not just them. We need to make some accommodations, too. And we’re not communicating.”

Most of those who came for the public comments part of the meeting left before the council dealt with a proposed seasonal tax that would have raised revenues from summer sectors such as offshore mining. The council ultimately decided against the seasonal tax.

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