Murkowski appoints Irwin to DNR

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Frank Murkowski picked a Fairbanks mining executive with a reputation for getting projects moving to head the state Department of Natural Resources on Friday.

Tom Irwin, a former executive with Fairbanks Gold Mining Inc. who also served on Murkowski's postelection transition team, will oversee the state's oil, gas, mining and timber resources.

Murkowski said that agency will play a key role in balancing the state budget and it needs a commissioner who understands the industries it oversees.

''Tom Irwin has the knowledge and the experience and the management abilities to bring DNR into the 21st century,'' Murkowski said.

Irwin, 56, was also president of the Alaska Council of Producers and served along with other industry executives on a panel that examined the inner workings of the agency for Murkowski following his election.

The panel issued a report to the governor that made several recommendations aimed at aiding the state's resource extraction efforts. Among them, the panel asked for a repeal of the state's Coastal Management Program and limits to public interest litigation laws that aid environmental and citizen's groups opposed to some resource development projects.

Murkowski gave little indication about what recommendations he would advance before the Legislature during a press conference in Fairbanks on Friday.

The Republican governor campaigned on a pledge to promote mining and timber activities in the state and vowed to increase oil production by 3 percent annually in the first two years of his term. Murkowski also said he would reduce the time it takes for mining operations to get permits.

Irwin said he looks forward to the job. ''We are going to work on generating more new wells,'' Irwin said. ''I take this job very readily.''

Judy Brady, executive director for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said Irwin is well suited to ''untangle'' what she characterized as lengthy permitting requirements in Alaska.

''This is a person who has a very fine reputation as a developer, well within the environmental standards in this state,'' Brady said.

But environmentalists who have clashed with Irwin over his past mining operations fear they will have a more difficult time fighting bad projects.

''In our worst moments we felt the Department of Natural Resources was in bed with the mining industry,'' said Mara Bacsujlaky, of the Alaska Environmental Center. ''And now Tom Irwin sort of legitimizes that.''

Bacsujlaky was part of a group that fought Fairbanks Gold Mining and the state over right-of-way permits at the True North Mine, located about 30 miles north of Fairbanks.

''He did not deal up front with the people and the public process was not well served with him,'' she said. ''It's a bit of a disappointment.''

Irwin has served as vice president of operations and of business development for Fairbanks Gold. He was operations manager and general manager for Fort Knox and True North mines from 1006-2001.

Irwin came to Alaska in 1992 after serving as general manager of an Amax Gold Inc., mine in Nevada. He has a bachelor's degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

As commissioner, Irwin will also oversee land sales to the private sector, manage state parks and forests and assert state ownership on land and navigable waters.

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