Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Talk: Weighing in on mine plans


To influence regulations pertaining to development of a hard-rock mine in Haines, residents should weigh in on the scoping phase of an environmental impact statement, a speaker with a statewide environmental health and justice organization told a group at the Chilkat Center Friday.

Heidi Zimmer, environmental health and justice coordinator for Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said the scoping stage – when regulatory agencies collect comments on what should be studied – is when to ask questions about potential impacts on fisheries, the possibility of acid runoff, and other issues, and make requests for studies.

“Basically, the more you’re involved at the start of the process, the more impact you’ll have,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer’s talk was sponsored by Lynn Canal Conservation, and is the first in a series of four talks hat will address water quality and mining.

Zimmer said actions residents can take to safeguard public health include: asking questions about potential damage to water quality, fish habitat and community health, putting pressure on regulatory agencies to prevent toxic releases, seeking comprehensive monitoring of potential pollutants, and insisting on reclamation bonds that would pay for treatment of mine wastes indefinitely.

Zimmer cited a 2006 study funded by Earthworks, a mining industry watchdog organization that found of 25 major mines in the West, more than 75 percent violated federal water quality standards for surface or groundwater.

The study attributed water pollution from mines to inaccurate predictions, inadequate mitigation and regulatory failures.

The Earthworks study found acid-mine drainage, a process in which exposed rock leads to acidification of surface water, occurred at one-third of the 25 mines, including at Alaska’s Greens Creek mine, Zimmer said, noting that several of those came before 2006.

Mining companies and state mining officials have been critical of the study.

Acid-mine drainage can last centuries, as evidenced by some that dates to mines of the Roman Empire, Zimmer said.

Mining also can release heavy metals and toxic elements into the environment including arsenic, cadmium, zinc, copper, lead, vanadium and selenium. Such elements don’t break down or go away, but only migrate, she said.

A problem is that the cost of a mining company’s required reclamation bonds – intended to protect the environment following a mine’s closure – is based on what is predicted in a reclamation plan, she said. Consulting companies that propose expensive reclamation plans don’t find much work, Zimmer said.

At the meeting’s end, assembly member Debra Schnabel said that she would like to have more information on mitigation technology in order to have meaningful conversation with mining companies about potential impacts.

Resident Jon Hirsh said that as a consumer of mining products, he’d like to hear “how we can mine and do it safe in the environment.”

“We need to have a nuanced conversation,” Zimmer said. “It’s not ‘yes’ to all mining or ‘no’ to any mining. It’s evaluating it on a case-by-case basis and discussing the why and where and how of these types of questions.”

Other speakers in the series will include: “To Permit or Not to Permit: How Communities Forge Win-Win Relationships for Economic Prosperity” by Guy Archibald, of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at Sheldon Museum; “Aquatic Ecosystems and Human Health: How Our Collective Decision Making Can Affect Our Water Quality” with Dr. Francis Solomon, Evergreen State College, 2 p.m. March 23 at the public library; and, “Examining Sustainable Mining Practices” by Dr. Dave Chambers, president of Science for Public participation, 6 p.m. April 18 at the public library.