Council to discuss Constantine oversight
January 9, 2020
The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Advisory Council will consider a letter requesting that Constantine Metal Resources allow a third party to observe water sampling studies.
Council member Kip Kermoian, representing the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee, will write the draft letter. The decision comes after the council considered a different draft letter to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation about concerns regarding transparency and oversight of a recent tracer-dye study that Constantine commissioned from an independent company.
The tracer-dye study comes after Constantine’s wastewater treatment permit was remanded by DEC last fall after concerned residents and conservation organizations requested a review of the permit, and asserted that DEC’s approved permit fails to protect potential groundwater contamination from wastewater Constantine plans to release underground. The study will assess whether the wastewater will connect with nearby groundwater, and whether a more stringent permit will be required.
“The objective of the dye-tracer study is to provide a presence or absence of connectivity from the point where the dye was introduced,” DEC’s Alan Nakanishi said Wednesday. “We expect that the dye-tracer study will show us whether or not there’s a connection and the degree of one. We do not know how that dye-tracer study will affect the final decision.”
Some council members questioned why Constantine did not agree to allow a third party, in this case Takshanuk Watershed Council staff, to observe the water sampling to be conducted by Constantine employees.
In a Nov. 15 email, Takshanuk Watershed Council executive director Derek Poinsette asked Constantine’s vice president of community relations Liz Cornejo if they could observe the study. Cornejo said the request was denied because it came at the end of the study, which began in early November and ended Dec. 11.
Cornejo said the consultant from Ozark Laboratories was on site at the Palmer Project for the first few days, and trained Constantine staff to collect water samples. “In his opinion the staff were qualified to conduct the rest of the sampling being done,” Cornejo said. “That involved changing out samples and collecting water samples. Everything was photographed and supervised by the consultant. If the consultant had recommended that independent parties be utilized, we certainly would have complied with that recommendation. It’s not in our interest to have data that’s compromised.”
Kermoian also asked why DEC wouldn’t require additional tests during different seasons when groundwater flow might change.
“There’s no assurances that this test will provide reasonable data that will help inform us to make a decision for the remand,” DEC’s manager for water permitting program Gene McCabe said. “Perhaps additional sampling will be required. We don’t know yet.”
The study is expected to be finalized and released to DEC and the public by February or early March, McCabe said.
During public comment, Richard Clement, Alaska Miners Association member and former data manager for the Pebble Mine project, said the request to have a third party observe Constantine was “just another attack by the conservationists.” He cited his time at Pebble when he was part of an audit team that reviewed assertions of flawed data collection that found no flaws in company practices.
“The suspected fraud by Constantine here, where these conservationists are asking for a third-party observer, it’s completely uncalled for,” Clements said.
That’s not the point, Kermoian responded.
“I don’t think they’re going to be acting fraudulently,” Kermoian said. “I think what we need is transparency, and having someone there to observe sampling is not an unreasonable request...If your goal is a healthy watershed, I see no reason why you should object.”
McCabe told the council that DEC doesn’t have the authority to require third-party access, and that any agreement would be between Constantine and an independent observer.