Kivalina villager opposed to Red Dog expansion

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

KOTZEBUE (AP) -- Native leaders in Kivalina are opposing expansion of the Red Dog Mine's port, saying the larger site would harm subsistence hunting for whales and other sea mammals in the Chukchi Sea.

David Swan, president of the village's tribal council, said the current port at Red Dog has already disrupted the migration routes and feeding grounds of bearded seal, beluga and bowhead whales.

''Our concerns are all about our subsistence way of life,'' said Swan, a whaling captain. ''We don't want to see any of our subsistence animals driven away. Once we lose those animals, we'll never be the same. We'll either have to follow them or change our lifestyle.''

The council bought a full-page ad in a recent issue of the Arctic Sounder newspaper to air their opposition.

Cominco Alaska Inc. wants to expand the port site at Red Dog to accommodate oceangoing ships. Kivalina, 15 miles northwest on the Chukchi Sea coast, is the nearest village to the mine.

Red Dog is the world's largest zinc mine, accounting for more than 5 percent of the world's supply. Cominco wants to increase production of zinc and lead, which would require a deep-water port site accessible by vessels too large for the current port site.

The Canadian-based mining company's plan calls for dredging a 50-foot-deep channel at the port. The channel would extend out from the beach about a mile into the Chukchi Sea. It hopes to be able to start the project in 2003.

Kivalina's tribal council is concerned that noise from the construction and shipping traffic will disturb the marine habitat that is a primary hunting ground for local subsistence hunters.

''It's already becoming harder to find bearded seals,'' Swan said. ''One of their prime feeding areas is right in front of the port.''

John Schaeffer, a Cominco consultant, said the expansion would actually reduce the amount of traffic at the port by eliminating the need for barges to make multiple trips from the port to the ships anchored in deeper water.

The Kivalina tribal council claims NANA Regional Corp. which owns the mine and leases it to Cominco, was ignoring the village's concerns.

But NANA officials say they have gone out of their way to include the village of Kivalina in discussions about Red Dog since the mine opened.

''We won't do anything that has any detrimental effects,'' said Robin Kornfield of NANA Development Corp. ''We're just as concerned about subsistence issues as the villages are. But until the studies are complete, we don't know what affect the proposal will have.''

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began an environmental impact study in February to see how the project would affect subsistence in the region.

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