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

Mining Forum panel highlights economy, water degradation


October 19, 2017

From left: Robert Venables, Liz Cornejo, Pete Condon, Jacinda Mack, Kyle Mosell, Jim Calvin, Kendra Zamzow, and Russ White answered questions at Sunday's panel discussion. Kyle Clayton photo.

Last weekend's Chilkat Valley Mining Forum drew a large crowd Saturday and Sunday where scientists, an economic researcher and an individual whose community and watershed was impacted by a mining disaster spoke.

Saturday opened with a Mining 101 course where Lynn Canal Geologic Services' Russ White and Cindy Buxton discussed mining terminology and how mine exploration companies determine whether or not a mine will be profitable.

Liz Cornejo, Constantine Metal Resources vice president of community and external affairs, talked about her background and the latest status of the mining exploration company.

Constantine has recently found high grade silver and zinc from drill cores in the Nunatak district of the Palmer project. The exploration company has invested $7 million in the project this year and drilled about 33,000 feet over three months.

Cornejo said they are still in the exploration phase.

Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, also spoke to the positive economic effects of a mine in the Chilkat Valley.

On Sunday, McDowell Group co-owner Jim Calvin outlined an economic impact study of mining commissioned by the Alaska Miner's Association.

In his presentation, he said 300 direct jobs with $30 million in annual wages would be added to the Haines economy should a mine move into operation, based on comparisons with mines in the region. He said 100 additional jobs could be added due to a multiplier effect associated with mining operations.

He said there's an annual average of 965 wage and salary jobs in the Haines Borough economy.

"A mine that employs 300 people that roughly generates $30 million in annual wages will result in about a 30 percent increase in wage and salary employment," Calvin said.

He also estimated an additional $1.1 million increase in property tax revenue for the Haines Borough.

Calvin spoke of the need to mitigate social and economic impacts of a mine, especially when it closes permanently.

He said the industry struggles with shortages for skilled labor required for mining jobs."The mining industry, along with other industries, do struggle with finding local people to fill these jobs which is one reason there is reliance on non-resident labor," Calvin said.

Jacinda Mack, coordinator for the First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, spoke to the social impacts of mining on small and Native communities.

She lives in Williams Lake, B.C., one of the communities affected by the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings dam failure when 25 million cubic meters of mining waste was released into the Frazier watershed.

"There's been so much stress in our communities," Mack said. "There's been a lot of divisions with people not trusting each other and trusting the company and the government."

Water bans were issued and revoked several times over after the disaster, Mack said.

She said the Mount Polley mine operation was touted as a shining example of good mining and that communities hear similar stories when mines are proposed.

"We hear what all of the economic benefits will be, what the jobs will be, local hires all of these things. What you don't hear about are the things that kind of come afterward."

"A mine is essentially a waste storage facility with a bit of gold or whatever left over," Mack said. "That's what you have to think of. Mines are forever. They don't go away."

The forum also included a panel discussion where speakers took audience questions. The bulk of the questions related to the mining's water quality impacts.

One question directed to Calvin was how he accounts for the economic impact associated with degraded water quality, a dollar figure that wasn't included in his report.

He said an economist would look at harvest declines in a fishery that was affected by a spill.

"You can certainly quantify the economic impact of an incident," Calvin said. "We'll certainly be watching Mount Polley closely. Next summer will be the first year for the return of the stock that was spawning on the summer of the accident."

Mack said a mine affects the culture and identity of a community forever and that a dollar figure doesn't always tell the whole story.

"How that collectively impacts your quality of life also needs to be considered even if there isn't a specific dollar amount," Mack said.

Another question directed at geologist Pete Condon, who works with the Greens Creek mine, was about the most significant risks to the valley's watershed posed by a mine.

Condon said each mine has a unique chemistry and he wasn't familiar enough with the Palmer project to give an accurate answer.

"I do not have an intimate knowledge of the Palmer project's chemistry," Condon said. "Managing materials, waste rock and tailings, to try to prevent or minimize acid formation, that's the key. You really want to get that one right."

Tom Ganner attended the forum. He said mining is an honest industry, but also a "dirty one."

He said the forum was valuable because it will help the community better plan and define what it wants for the planning and permitting of a mine.

"One of the things I got from the forum was that each and every mining scenario and permitting process is unique to the geography and geology and hydrology of an area," Ganner said. "There's really no set procedure, and perhaps in being able to formulate our questions and needs and concerns up front we might better stand a chance of being able to come up with a better model for a community/mining corporation relationship."

He said he'd like to see an independent group monitor and collect data, such as baseline environmental data along with water quality data during the life of a mine.


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