CBJ Assembly creates AJ Mine fund

The AJ Mine Capital Project Fund now holds $250,000 for a water system study and other issues to be resolved before city officials decide if they’ll promote the city-owned gold mine. The Assembly Monday night appropriated the money from the sales tax budget reserve.

The ordinance says nothing about what the funds would be used for, and that caught the attention of most of the public who testified.

“I’m opposed to allocating any money for anything without first knowing what exactly the money would be used for and what results CBJ would expect to receive,” said Juneau resident Tina Brown.

City Engineering Director Rorie Watt told the Assembly several weeks ago that a fund would be needed to explore AJ issues, particularly Juneau’s water supply.

The city and borough owns two-thirds of the AJ property and Alaska Electric Light and Power owns the rest. Juneau’s main water source is Last Chance Basin, which sits atop, adjacent to and beneath the ore body.

Protecting Last Chance Basin was the AJ Mine Advisory Committee’s top priority. The Assembly formed the task force to determine circumstances under which the city might promote the AJ. The group worked for three months last spring, presenting its report in May.

Assembly member Ruth Danner tried to amend the ordinance to specifically state a water study would be done.

“I believe this ordinance should be redirected to say an ordinance appropriating to the (city) manager $250,000 for a safe drinking water supply study, and staff and legal time necessary to provide for research into the costs and benefits of reopening the AJ Mine,” she said.

Danner lost her argument as well as one to add intent language calling for a public vote on the AJ before the Assembly would solicit or select a junior mining company to advance the mine.

“When we have public testimony we hear from people on both extremes,” she said. “We don’t hear from people in the middle,” which she believes a survey would reach.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said it’s too early to call for a public vote.

“There’s no reason to do this right now,” Sanford said. “We’re just trying to deal with whether or not it is feasible, whether or not it is safe for our water system, to even begin to look at the AJ Mine.”

Both of Danner’s amendments failed. Then seven of the nine-member Assembly voted to seed the AJ Mine Capital Project account with the $250,000 appropriation. David Stone and Malcolm Menzies recused themselves from the discussion and vote, due to a financial interest with A-E-L & P.

Engineering Director Watt will direct the studies. He said he plans a public process.

“Starting out with advising the public of a draft outline of what issues ought to be studied and look for comment and input on whether we’re missing topics,” Watt said.

He said the public also would be asked to comment on the final report.

The AJ study would include legal issues, Watt said. Juneau is one of the few municipalities in the country that regulates mining.

Watt said the study also would look for municipal land that could be used as a mine portal.

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