Officials attempt to assuage ore transfer concerns

The Haines Borough Assembly voted 5-1 to approve conceptual plans for Phases 1, 2 and 3 of the Lutak Dock—a controversial vote for many residents who opposed phase 3 because they thought the designs were catered toward Canadian mining interests, though borough officials and an engineer deny the charge.

Some residents worried that elected officials and staff subverted the public process and acted dishonestly because they asserted at last week’s planning commission meeting that the phase 3 concept was not designed with the intention to ship ore. An engineer tasked with designing Lutak Dock’s phase 3 concept said he was never asked to consider ore when coming up with the design.

The concern from residents came after a March 24 Ports and Harbor Advisory Committee meeting hosted Yukon mining industry leaders who said the phase 3 design of the Lutak Dock could accommodate sealed ore container shipping without the construction of a specialized ore dock, and that depending on the timing of its construction, they could use the dock to ship their ore.

Folding phase 3 into phases 1 and 2 would save the borough $2.5 million. The conceptual design consists of building an elevated ramp to allow additional loading and offloading barges and ships, along with an additional dolphin, which would allow a second ship to moor at the dock. The planning commission voted 5-1 on April 7 to recommend approving phase 3 to the assembly.

“Last year, the roll-on/roll-off dock was partially submerged, but thankfully was not out of service for very long,” borough manager Annette Kreitzer wrote in a memo to the public on April 6 in response to the controversy. “This development, as well as when a scrap metal barge could not initially dock to receive scrap from Haines, caused the harbormaster to consider how we could provide redundant access and allow for a larger barge to be able to maneuver at the dock.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, a few residents voiced support for the design. John Carlson said not to develop the dock to its full potential would deprive the borough of potential revenue and that the community could decide separately whether to ship ore. Cynthia Jones said it was a good idea to have a backup to the roll-on/roll-off ramp. George Campbell said anything the borough could do to streamline construction and save money “is a good thing to do.”

About 20 residents spoke in opposition to approving phase 3. Many expressed concern that a steady stream of ore trucks down the Haines Highway and through neighborhoods would negatively impact the environment and quality of life.

“Our highway is a causeway running, at times, through the middle of our river which of course supports our fishing fleet and so on,” Libenson said. “We need to be especially careful in Haines about inviting regular high traffic of ore.”

Most expressed frustration that, despite the presentation from Yukon mining representatives, borough staff and officials maintained that the phase 3 concepts had nothing to do with ore.

Planning Commissioner Rob Goldberg, who approved recommending the phase 3 design last Thursday, told the assembly he rescinded his support and that he felt lied to by borough staff and officials when he was told that phase 3 was not designed with ore in mind.

“I asked repeatedly if phase 3 would be used for mining interests,” Goldberg said of last week’s planning commission meeting. “We were told repeatedly that phase 3 has nothing to do with the transfer of ore concentrate from mines. Then I listened to the recording of the ports and harbors meeting and learned that phase 3 is all about the transfer of ore concentrate from mines. I heard borough staff and commission members offering to give the mining companies anything they wanted.”

Staff and officials countered that never in their discussions internally or with engineers did they seek to design the dock with ore shipments in mind, and that the PHAC meeting came as a surprise.

“We did not, in our planning for this, at any time before that ports and harbors committee meeting have any idea that anybody in the Yukon is going to use this ramp for ore transport,” Mayor Douglas Olerud said. “For anybody to suggest that the borough was in cahoots with ore companies to do this behind the backs of the residents of Haines is insulting…”

Olerud opened the discussion by telling the public that it’s currently possible for ore to be shipped as the dock stands. Palmer Project mining exploration company Constantine Metals in its preliminary economic assessment said one of its possible plans for shipping ore would be to barge concentrate from Lutak Dock to Skagway’s ore terminal, where it would then be loaded onto an ocean-going vessel.

An engineer from R&M Consultants, the engineering company contracted to create the dock’s conceptual designs, wrote in an April 10 memo to borough manager Annette Kreitzer that the use of sealed shipping containers to transport ore is technically feasible with the phase 3 design but also the current Lutak Dock and “any facility capable of supporting typical industrial containerized cargo could conceivably be used to support ore export.”

“This includes the existing (Alaska Marine Lines roll on roll off dock) and the proposed phase 3 access trestle,” R&M engineer John Daley wrote. “The ability of an industrial dock to handle a container of ore is much the same that any road or highway that could handle a truck with a container of building materials or consumer goods could also handle a container of ore.”

In an interview with the CVN, Daley acknowledged that he was referring to the technical feasibility of shipping ore in a container, which could be loaded across a roll on roll off dock onto a barge, but that’s different from what the Yukon mining representatives said they would use — a “rotainer” system that uses a crane to empty ore from containers into the hold of a bulk carrier. Yukon joint transportation and infrastructure committee co-chair Kells Boland told the PHAC that Yukon mines would need phase 3’s elevated platform for that system. He also said for the arrangement to work in Haines, Lutak Dock would need to be ready within two years to export concentrate from Minto Mine, a working mine that uses Skagway to export ore. Skagway is planning to decommission its ore terminal in 2023, but officials have expressed a willingness to continue to provide access for ore shipments in some capacity moving forward, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Company report.

Daley wrote that in his communications with borough staff, shipping ore at Lutak Dock “never came up in our discussions and was not a design requirement. Phase 3 simply provides a very minimal ship to shore connection that could be used for multi-purpose access and cargo operations. It’s 40 feet wide as opposed to the over 560 feet of access that you have now and will lose with this project.”

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said that approving phase 3 was important to having an active dock and that the question of shipping ore was a separate matter that residents could debate independently of the dock’s design. She made a motion to include language in the resolution approving phase 3 that would require the question of ore shipment to go before voters.

“We fail to recognize that we as an assembly and a community approve our clients,” Schnabel said. “We have contracts that are developed for every product that goes across the dock. That would come before the public, do we want to do it or not. I’m just saying we can get ahead of that argument.”

The motion failed after Olerud broke a 3-3 tie vote in opposition. He said while the conversation is worth having, he didn’t support it because it might have the unintended consequences of impacting possible shipments related to small-scale mining operations occurring in the Chilkat Valley.

Assembly member Caitie Kirby said she understood why residents felt the public trust was violated, but said it was necessary to separate the issue of fixing Lutak Dock and whether or not ore would ever be shipped from it.

“We do need to look at this as two separate needs,” Kirby said. “We need to fix our dock…we also need to determine at this point in time what the public actually wants as far as transporting ore over our facilities. I think we need to do something that has results from listening to people.”

Assembly member Tyler Huling, the sole opposition vote, said she sensed an “unwillingness to acknowledge” residents’ concerns from borough officials and staff at the planning commission meeting.

“There was this attitude, ‘You don’t understand. You’re misinterpreting the facts,’” Huling said. “I don’t think that’s the case. I think they understand what is before them. They just don’t like it or (don’t) feel they’ve been involved in the process. I’d advocate to figure out a way to extend this process where everyone can be involved and dive into the details of what this would actually mean.”

Assembly member Gabe Thomas said he was glad the vote passed with majority support and said that people should consider that the dock supports more than just Haines residents. He cited the $20 million federal grant that will help fund the bulk of the project’s cost.

“We didn’t get 20 million only for Haines. We got 20 million for a dock that helps support a region,” Thomas said. “We need to stop talking about it as only our dock. We’re shipping jet fuel, gas, diesel. Things go through Haines and come back through Haines.”

Assembly members later stressed that the public should be informed and included in discussions as conceptual plans advance through the 35%, 65% and 95% design phases.

At the end of the meeting, Tom Morphet during public comment asked why the borough insists on maintaining ownership of the dock and that any private industry, such as a mining company, should finance their own dock.

“Why are Haines taxpayers subsidizing private industry by way of funding and building docks?” Morphet said. “No other town in Southeast owns and operates a freight dock. I would like you to go home tonight and think why are we in the dock business.”

Mayor to tighten up meetings, removes Pardee from PHAC

When the presentation wasn’t listed on the PHAC agenda, borough staff said Pardee violated the Open Meetings Act. Olerud ultimately removed Pardee from the committee last Thursday after Pardee, initially agreeing to step down as chair, declined to step down days later challenging the claim that he had violated the OMA.

Olerud wrote to Pardee that “consistent interpretation of the rules, and consistent treatment of the public, regardless of their ideology, are key to the public trusting the outcome of our decisions. During the March 24 Ports and Harbors Committee meeting, neither of those standards were met.”

He told Pardee, after he declined to step down, that it was clear that what he thought was their mutual understanding about the value of public process and trust was not taken seriously.

“Your rescinding your resignation shows me that you don’t value process to the degree necessary,” Olerud said. “With that in mind, I am removing you from the Ports and Harbors Committee.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Olerud also said he’s making other changes to committee meetings including requiring assembly liaisons to be held responsible for ensuring meetings are conducted according to the requirements of the OMA if other staff aren’t present to do so. At the March 24 PHAC meeting, borough clerk Alekka Fullerton and manager Annette Krietzer were in collective bargaining negotiations.