Juneau Assembly OKs drinking water supply plan

Last Chance Basin water treatment plant

The Juneau Assembly has adopted a Municipal Drinking Water Supply Plan that grew out of discussions about reopening the AJ Mine near downtown.

The centerpiece of the plan is an effort to build redundancy into the Capital City’s water supply, the bulk of which comes from Last Chance Basin, where the old AJ Mine is located. Salmon Creek is the secondary source, but is interruptible due to seasonal turbidity, or cloudiness in the water. A filtration plant would allow Salmon Creek to operate year round, giving Juneau two full-time water supplies.

In October, Juneau voters approved more than $1.5 million in sales tax revenue for Salmon Creek filtration. The drinking water plan identifies five actions that would trigger a decision to construct a plant, including growth in Juneau, increased demand for city water from cruise ships, regulatory requirements, declining well field production, and increased turbidity.

Tom Brice with the Juneau Building Trades Council urged the Assembly to adopt the plan.

“The Juneau Building Trades is very concerned that the Assembly take the responsible action to ensure that our community has a safe, viable water source that meets the needs of Juneau, not just now, but into the future,” Brice said.

In 2011, the Assembly appointed the AJ Mine Advisory Committee to look at the feasibility of reopening the old mine near downtown, which the city co-owns along with a sister company of Alaska Electric Light and Power. The committee recommended the drinking water supply plan, saying the threat posed to Last Chance Basin’s well field by mining activity was a significant barrier to mine redevelopment.

The Assembly has not yet decided whether to pursue reopening the AJ, and it remains a controversial issue that divides Juneau residents.

Guy Archibald with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council told the Assembly it will be impossible to divorce the plan from efforts to restart the mine.

“This rather quick push to get the funding and get this resolution through to build a secondary water system or a redundant water system seems to be primarily pushed towards the promoting of the AJ Mine,” Archibald said. “If indeed there are millions of dollars worth of gold down there, I would ask that maybe the potential mining company pay for these threats to the infrastructure.”

Others questioned the plan’s accuracy, or why it doesn’t address other alternatives for adding redundancy to Juneau’s water supply.

Assembly member Karen Crane said the discussion made it clear to her that the plan needed more work.

“We would save ourselves a lot of time and a lot of grief, if we would put a little more time into this on the front end,” Crane said.

But Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said while it’s not perfect, the plan is at least a start.

“The future growth over the long term is better served by beginning to develop a filtration system for that massive reservoir at Salmon Creek than the aquifer we’re already tapping pretty near its capacity I believe in the Last Chance Basin,” said Kiehl.

The resolution passed 7-2, with Crane and Assembly member Loren Jones voting against it.

Assembly takes up another appeal

The Juneau Assembly has accepted yet another appeal of a Planning Commission decision.

At its meeting on Monday the Assembly agreed to hear an appeal filed by Juneau Veterans for Peace of a condition use permit for an indoor shooting range at a proposed gun shop near the airport. Assembly member Loren Jones will be the presiding officer for the appeal.

The Assembly also went into executive session to finalize a recent ruling in another appeal. In a draft written decision released last month, the Assembly upheld permits issued for an expansion of the city’s cruise ship docks.

Before the executive session, Assembly member Carlton Smith announced he would recuse himself from the final cruise ship dock vote. Smith last week came under fire from the couple that appealed the permits for not disclosing that he was the real estate broker for a property that could benefit from dock expansion.

Also during the executive session, the Assembly was set to discuss a personnel issue with City Manager Kim Kiefer, Deputy Manager Rob Steedle and City Attorney John Hartle.

The Assembly is allowed to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors so as not to risk disparaging an employee’s reputation.