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Assemblyman drafts regulation that prohibits


April 11, 2019

An ordinance that would prohibit underwater storage of hazardous materials within one mile of any surface body of water in the Haines Borough was introduced to the assembly by its newest member Will Prisciandaro on Tuesday.

Hazardous materials are defined under Alaska statute as “waste that exhibits the characteristic of toxicity, persistence, or carcinogenicity.”

“This will regulate facilities that would store hazardous waste under water’s surface or within a water storage,” Prisciandaro said. “There’s no industries currently in the borough that this would affect right now.”

Tailings dams contain waste materials, left over from separating the desired minerals from ore, in water to create a buffer between the material and the air which prevents harmful chemical reactions that result in pollution.

Sometimes those dams fail, which happend recently at mining sites at Mount Polley in British Columbia, Canada in 2014 and in Brazil earlier this year. When the dams failed, millions of gallons of waste were released into the environment and nearby waterways. Prisciandaro referenced the dam failures as reason to consider the regulation.

Mount Polley failed due to an unstable foundation built on overlooked glacial layers beneath the dam, according to an analysis report conducted by an independent review panel afterwards.

“The problem with aqueous storage is that our region is subject to seismic activity, heavy rainfall, avalanches,” Prisciandaro said. “Water is very mobile.”

Prisciandaro said he wanted to limit the restriction to water so as not to affect any industry storing solid hazardous waste like dynamite, which is less likely to affect rivers and streams.

A tailings dam is the most common waste disposal solution for mining operations, according to a Reuters article on the Brazilian dam failure.

“Water is essential in the grinding and processing of mineral ore for the extraction of the contained metal, which means that the waste takes the form of a slurry of water and mineral particles,” journalist Andy Home wrote. “It is this slurry that is stored in a tailings dam and which can cause such devastation if the dam is breached.”

An alternative to dam storage of mining waste is the dry stack method.

Dry stacked tailings systems are not economically feasible for larger mines, according to Mining Magazine, though they virtually eliminate the possibility of tailing runoff, dam failure, or groundwater contamination.

Pebble Mine, a proposed copper and gold mine in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest fishery for sockeye salmon, is pending federal permit approval by 2020. The proposed project would have a tailings dam with a 600-foot embankment.

The volume of mine tailings and waste rock produced from the smallest mine proposed would be enough to fill a professional football stadium more than 880 times, according to an Environmental Protection Agency review of the potential mine.

“So, it’s a provocation on the mining industry basically?” assembly member Brenda Josephson asked on Tuesday.

“It is not prohibiting mining in any way,” Prisciandaro said. “It’s an environmental regulation that would need to be followed. (Constantine) has no operational plan right now, so whether this would affect them in any way, I couldn’t tell you.”

Liz Cornejo, vice president of external affairs said she has several questions and concerns with the proposal.

“I hope assembly members will engage the mining industry and state regulators in the conversation,” she said. “Aqueous storage facilities, as I understand the ordinance to address, are currently allowable by state law under certain permitted conditions.”

Prisciandaro said he was inspired to bring the ordinance forward because every job he’s had in Haines has been based in the fishing industry. “This is a way to put a regulation in place that will help protect our environment here while still allowing industry,” he said.

Constantine Metal Resources has been exploring at the Palmer Project site 30 miles north of Haines since 2006 for minerals including zinc, copper, silver and gold.

The project is still in exploration. Constantine is developing an economic viability report, the first of three steps in economic studies, Cornejo said in January.

The Haines Borough Assembly unanimously voted to introduce the ordinance. It is scheduled for its first public hearing on April 23 at 6:30 p.m. in assembly chambers.


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