AJ Mine compact renewal stands — without a public hearing

Despite a public outcry on a recent AJ Mine resolution, the Juneau Assembly Monday refused to reconsider a vote and discuss the issue.

The Assembly two weeks ago approved Resolution 2656, renewing a 1979 compact for property owners CBJ and AJT to act as a single entity for future mine exploration and development.

Before it appeared on the July 16 agenda, the resolution had not gone through an Assembly committee, nor had a public hearing.  Attempts by three members failed to table the resolution or send it to the Committee of the Whole. At the end of that  meeting, member Jesse Kiehl called for reconsideration of his vote, vowing to bring up the issue again.

The public beat him to it.  Several residents came before the panel on Monday, asking members to reconsider, including Juneau resident Bob Sylvester.

“I think that democracy, for lack of a better word, is time consuming and inefficient. I know people would like to get on with this project (re-opening the mine). But I believe the public has the right to be heard in a thorough public process,” Sylvester said.

The city and borough owns two-thirds of the AJ Mine property and one-third of the Treadwell Mine in Douglas. AJT Mining Properties, a sister company to Alaska Electric Light and Power, owns the rest. The 34-year-old compact joins the property.  City Manager Kim Kiefer previously called the compact update a “housekeeping” measure that only demonstrates the commitment of CBJ and AJT to make the property available for mining development.

In the two weeks since the Assembly approved Resolution 2656, members have received on online petition with 140 signatures as well as numerous emails asking that it be brought up again. They’ve have been stopped on the street by constituents, and criticized in letters to the editor.

Kiehl said he’s had personal conversations with ardent mine supporters and critics, all saying the resolution should have a public hearing.

“What I’ve heard overwhelmingly in those comments  from the public is that they still don’t know what it does, and they’re not sure if it’s a good idea and they’d like us to hash it out a little more and to do so in public,” Kiehl said.

Guy Archibald, of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, was one of those reminding the Assembly that re-opening the old mine has been one of the most divisive issues to ever come before the town.

“There cannot be any Assembly action on the AJ Mine that’s dismissed as either routine or just processing paperwork without also dismissing the very strong feelings and emotions from a large portion of this community,” Archibald said.

When Kiehl called for reconsideration of the resolution, his motion failed on a six to three vote.   Only Kiehl, Karen Crane and Loren Jones voted to hear the issue again.  Mayor Merrill Sanford, and members Carlton Smith, Randy Wanamaker, Mary Becker, Jerry Nankervis, and Johan Dybdahl voted against reconsideration.

Thane Road resident Larri Spengler was surprised that no members explained why they would not allow a public hearing on the resolution.

“I think it would have lost nothing to have a meeting, talk about it in public and then have the vote. And if the Assembly still thought it was a good idea they could still do it, but people would have been brought along, and that’s really the key,” she said.

The question before the Assembly was simply whether to talk about the AJ Mine compact update in public.  It was not a question of the merits of the compact .

Juneau’s main source of water comes from Last Chance Basin, which sits atop, adjacent to and beneath the ore body, just above downtown.