Big problems often warrant big solutions, and that's what happened with the positive outcome of the dispute over the Pogo gold mine's federal wastewater permit. All those involved deserve applause for finding a solution that allows the project's owner to resume construction.
This was one disagreement that the region could not afford to have drawn out, which is why Gov. Frank Murkowski and his administration stepped heavily into the argument between the Fairbanks-based Northern Alaska Environmental Center, mine owner Teck-Pogo and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Top-level meetings among the parties concluded last week with the announcement that the environmental center is withdrawing its appeal in exchange for additional monitoring of the Goodpaster River, along with a study of the river's fisheries and creation of a seven-person citizens advisory panel.
Judging from news accounts, however, residents can be left questioning why the dispute reached such a crisis condition. An environmental center negotiator said Wednesday that Teck-Pogo officials explained that the remedy the center had been seeking would not work as well as what had already been planned for the site.
The additional monitoring and the advisory panel then became the top solutions, she said. That is information that should have been known well before the center filed its appeal, however, and can now leave Alaskans wondering just how well the environmental center had communicated its concerns to the mine's owners in the years preceding the construction shutdown.
While this latest effort by the environmental center has worked out well, it has nevertheless put the mine behind schedule and upset the lives of many workers. Did this really need to happen?
Judging from the public reaction, most people didn't think so.
The environmental center came under intense pressure, through newspaper advertisements, pleas from elected officials, labor unions and residents, to withdraw its appeal. The center even found itself the subject of a sizable number of pickets, and its officials, unfortunately, received death threats.
The environmental center's leaders and staff play an important role in the community, but they should not have been surprised at the reaction to their permit appeal.
This episode, distasteful to so many, ultimately worked out well. Better yet would be for people to draw lessons and apply them to future projects.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - May 7
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