Public hearing held on easing Juneaus mine rules

Posted: Monday, April 07, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A public hearing was held on easing Juneau's mine permitting rules that drew strong opinions about environmental safeguards, local control and the Southeast economy.

The Juneau Assembly's Lands Committee is considering changes to a city law to make it easier to open and operate a mine in rural parts of the city. About 30 people attended the two-hour public hearing Saturday.

The Lands Committee may take action at a meeting Monday, said Chairman Randy Wanamaker.

Mining companies and their supporters argue the changes are needed because the city's existing regulations duplicate state and federal environmental reviews at great expense. Others said the rules are in place for a reason.

The existing mining ordinance calls on the city to review a large mine's socio-economic impacts and potential effects on air and water quality, safety and neighborhoods.

The proposed changes come as the Kennecott Greens Creek mine is working to expand its tailings facility on Admiralty Island and Coeur Alaska tries to reopen the Kensington mine north of Berners Bay. Both projects would be subject to city permitting.

Representatives from both companies spoke in favor of changes at Saturday's hearing. Rick Richens, vice president of Coeur Alaska, said his company spent $2 million on two previous city permit reviews.

Coeur is not aware of any other municipalities that regulate to this degree,'' he said.

Douglas Mertz, a local attorney who was critical of plans to reopen the Kensington mine north of Juneau in the 1990s, said the city's mining ordinance was drafted by two bipartisan panels that spent weeks in open debate. The existing rules work, he said.

I cannot believe you're even considering doing this,'' he told the committee. You're proposing to open up some of the deepest wounds we've seen in this community.''

Federal and state environmental analyses can be inadequate because of financing, structure and political leanings, Mertz said.

I don't think you can say that the state and federal governments will do a better job,'' he said.

Neil MacKinnon, who served on a committee that developed the city's first mining regulations in the 1980s, said participants discussed creating different classifications for rural and urban mines at the time, but ultimately didn't separate them.

There was no consensus on the mining ordinance and I was on the group that adopted it,'' he said. The Assembly now has a chance to fix it and I encourage you to do so.''

Others urged the committee to support the changes because of mining's potential role in Juneau's economy. Coastal Helicopters owner Jim Wilson said over-regulation is driving mining companies away.

We used to have 10 mining companies come to Juneau every year doing exploration,'' he said. They've stopped coming. I urge you to support this amendment and try to get business going in this part of Alaska.''

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