The Haines Economic Development Corporation resigned its membership on the Chilkat Valley Mining Forum committee last month, with HEDC president Heather Shade saying in a letter to the mining committee that its membership endangers community perception of HEDCs “neutral, non-advocacy position.”

Shade told the CVN that the mining committee’s voting structure—decisions require 70 percent support—might give the perception of HEDC’s wholesale endorsement of speakers and topics. “It’s not a structure that allows us to maintain our independence in providing data-driven information and community dialogue about industry sectors as opposed to individual businesses,” Shade said.

HEDC is the third organization to resign its seat on the committee since 2017. Lynn Canal Conservation and the Chilkat Indian Village were the first to drop out.

Constantine Metal Resources public relations vice president Liz Cornejo said the committee’s 70 percent level of approval was designed to build consensus. She said HEDC’s resignation did not prompt any discussion at its most recent meeting about changing the mining committee’s structure or voting processes.

Takshanuk Watershed Council last month made a motion to limit membership on the committee to nonprofits, but the proposal lacked support from the majority of member organizations. In October, the member groups were first asked to consider such a proposal. In public comment to HEDC at the time, Linda Palmer and Cornejo both acknowledged personal interests in serving on the mining committee and opposed having their votes removed.

Linda Palmer said the committee has the potential to damage the perceived value of the property they lease to Constantine. “We being there will keep this in a positive direction where the mine and Constantine’s development can continue to be considered at least,” she said during public comment.

The mining forum committee was created around 2016 when Takshanuk Watershed Council received a grant to pay for speaker events. Former TWC director Meredith Pochardt, who organized a previous forum on her own, later invited Constantine and other stakeholders, the majority of those who are now members, to form a committee to plan the next event.

“It started out with this altruistic view of we’re all going to get together at the table as a group,” Pochardt said. “In practice, it didn’t end up working. Everyone kind of felt a little threatened that their perspective was not going to be fully represented. There was this constant battle that a pro- mine stance or a critical mine stance was present.”

Carrie Weishahn, LCC’s representative at the time, also cited the voting structure as a reason her group withdrew from the committee, said it precludes diverse speakers. She said during the 2017 forum, the 70 percent rule had to be suspended so that they could include a speaker who could talk about her community’s experience in the wake of a tailings dam failure.

Cornejo said they have contentious and “unfortunate meetings,” but that it’s unsurprising that committee members disagree. She said speaker proposals from various groups are sometimes inappropriate for the chosen topic. “If you’re having a conference on the shape of the earth, you don’t have to bring in the person who thinks the world’s flat,” Cornejo said. “It’s nice to have perspectives that are appropriate to the conversation, and not inflammatory.”

Pochardt said she was encouraged when HEDC joined the mining committee in January 2019. “I was really hopeful that HEDC could be a good, neutral party. It’s a bummer they stepped down,” Pochardt said. “I hoped they would just take it over and run it.”

TWC executive director Derek Poinsette chaired the mining committee after Pochardt, and said the committee’s structure changed the dynamics of what he hoped would be a more collaborative process.

“People tend to get into camps and strategize on how to defeat the other camp when that wasn’t the original intention,” Poinsette said. “For whatever reason, that committee has turned into a chess board rather than a cooperative effort.”

Diana Lapham represents the Haines Miners Association. She said a lack of trust exists between group members. “I think all of us need to work on trust issues,” Lapham said. “Unfortunately, you feel like you’re on the defensive sometimes.”

When the mining committee was organizing last spring’s forum, it voted against Takshanuk’s proposal to have economist Greg Erikson as a speaker. In response, Takshanuk organized its own event where Erikson gave a presentation that detailed mining’s negative long-term effects on small-town economies.

Lapham took that as an act of bad faith. “The anti-mining people, or the ones that don’t want to see it in their backyard, they don’t trust the information, the factual information,” Lapham said. “I want to bring facts into this community.”

Sue Chasen said she resigned from the mining committee when she represented the sportsman’s association, because she felt like she was representing herself more than her member organization. She said she later joined HEDC in hopes of using the economic development corporation as a more active, neutral participant. Critical of the mining committee’s organizational structure, she said a neutral party should be in charge.

Access to unbiased, educational information is compromised because of the interests involved on both sides of the issue, Chasen said.

“I’m concerned with how the information is being distributed,” Chasen said of past forums, including Takshanuk’s and the recent study detailing mining’s correlation with a rising crime rate. “I don’t know how the right way to do this is. I don’t even know if it is possible in this town. When you really become a crusader for something, how do you have open-minded discussion on one side or the other?”

Pochardt said she thinks if things progress as they are, individual organizations like Takshanuk will organize their own events, similar to what it did last spring.

“I think now the direction of mining education forums in Haines might have to be more one-off type deals, which I think doesn’t build consensus and it still divides the community.”

Cornejo said the committee is a work in progress, and that she is open to changes. “If there are areas of weakness, I’m encouraging people to change the terms of reference or to make a motion to change membership or whatever.”

Current members include Constantine (Cornejo, Sheri Maust), the Palmer Family (Jessie Badger, Linda Palmer), Haines Miners Association (Diana Lapham, Richard Clement), Haines Chamber of Commerce (Tracey Harmon), Haines Sportsman’s Association (no member seated), Haines Borough (Jan Hill, Ed Coffland), Haines Gilnetters Association (Ryan Cook, Marty Smith), United Southeast Alaska Gilnetters (Stuart DeWitt) and Takshanuk Watershed Council (Ben Kirkpatrick, Norm Hughes).

The title of the next forum, scheduled for March, is called “Constantine Updates and Community Planning.” The committee is in the process of choosing speakers.