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

Resident group commissions report on socioeconomic impact of mining

 

September 19, 2019 | View PDF



By Kyle Clayton

A group of citizens concerned about mining impacts in the Chilkat Valley, the Friends of the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers, commissioned a report from a Montana-based consulting company, Power Consulting, on the social costs of mining on rural communities.

The report, which cites about 24 studies related to extractive industries and small communities, details impact to mining communities in Appalachia, Canada and Australia that detail the “much broader range of impacts on residents and communities than what the narrow ‘economic’ or commercial measurements allow us to discuss and quantify.”

It was written in part by Thomas Power, a research professor and professor emeritus in the economics department at the University of Montana. He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton University.

The report cites numerous studies that show increases in property and violent crimes, substance abuse, stress to services from an influx of non-local mine workers, impacts on indigenous populations and poverty rates, and large income differentials.

One study of a North Dakota oil-drilling region interviewed area police officers of which 80 percent said they were “called out for service significantly more than they had been before the oil boom began.” Another study cited increases in domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in a regional analysis of the same area and in Montana.

The report state that rural communities located nearby a proposed mine should increase their police services and create outreach for substance abuse and other services. One study found that communities that already have social services available experience fewer impacts. “We find no evidence of systematic negative associations between quality of life and the gross value of mineral production. Instead mining activity has a positive impact on incomes, housing affordability, communication access, education and employment across regional and remote Australia,” according to a 2010 study that was cited in the report.

“Our point is not that mining projects always lead to drunkenness and a concentration of bad actors,” the report states. “In fact, there are some very positive benefits to the miners that hold jobs and the communities that receive royalties and/or tax base from the mine. What we are attempting to stress is that there is more to a mine locating near a local community than the narrow ‘jobs and income’ commercial view of the impact on a local community.”

The study also cited volatility in mineral prices that lead to “fluctuations in the level of employment and payroll in the extractive industries” which lead to boom and bust economies.

Deborah Marshall, a spokesperson for the “Friends of Chilkat and Klehini Rivers,” said while she is concerned about rising crime, her bigger concerns include “infrastructure being expanded to accommodate an influx of the population.”

“It’s important for us to open our eyes when the price of the mineral drops,” Marshall said. “We don’t know if it will last for 50 years or for 10 years. It’s a market beyond our control.”

Interested residents can review the 28-page report, which elaborate on economic flickering and other issues, at the public library. Library staff said few members of the public have yet to ask about it. The Haines Chamber of Commerce has reviewed the report, said chamber director Tracey Harmon. She said while the chamber agreed that it’s critical to consider community impacts, they questioned the “information, assumptions and conclusions reached in the report.”

“The comments made regarding a transient workforce in mining communities outside of the state of Alaska are not particularly relevant here in Haines where workers could live locally,” Harmon said in a statement to the CVN. “The author emphasizes the importance of studying ‘similar circumstances in other communities’ yet fails to reference any Alaskan mining examples and instead discusses Appalachia coal mining and the mega-boom of oil development in North Dakota.”

Borough manager Debra Schnabel said she’s reviewed the report, and doesn’t doubt the claims it makes. “The question I think for us and the community is, are there things that we can do,” Schnabel said. “Is there room for us to work with Constantine or the mining operator to mitigate these impacts?”

Marshall said the group is a loose collection of individuals who communicate primarily via email. Group members each pitched in money to pay for the report.

Power Consulting’s client list includes municipalities in Texas and Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency and number of other non-governmental organizations, government agencies, tribal organizations and corporations. The company has also done work opposing the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, according to the company’s website.

 
 

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