Juneau Assembly advances effort to streamline mining review

Juneau’s mining ordinance will face scrutiny from a subcommittee appointed by the mayor. That’s despite advice from the city manager and some skeptical members of the public.

There are no known proposals to reopen the historic AJ gold mine. Or any other mine for that matter.

Yet about 30 people turned up at Monday night’s Juneau Assembly committee meeting. Many wore yellow stickers to express their opposition to scaling back the city’s mining ordinance.

Residents against changing the city's mining ordinance wore yellow stickers to express their opposition at the June 12 Juneau Assembly meeting.

Residents against changing the city’s mining ordinance wore yellow stickers to express their opposition at the June 12 Juneau Assembly meeting. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

Assemblywoman Debbie White pushed back saying mining jobs are more important than the concerns of green groups.

“I feel that this Assembly needs to grow a backbone and stop caving in to people who think they are going to force mob rule on this group,” White said. “I believe that we need to start listening to people that are going to make jobs instead of break jobs, because right now the pressure we are getting is not necessarily from the majority — they’re just better organized.”

A group of five businessmen, some with ties to previous mining efforts, originally brought the initiative to the Assembly. They argue the existing ordinance duplicates state and federal review and makes Juneau less attractive to mining companies looking to invest.

But City Manager Rorie Watt counseled the Assembly to take a go-slow approach that would include more public participation and all nine members. His advice went unheeded.

Instead, Mayor Ken Koelsch proposed he appoint a three-member subcommittee, “and that three-member subcommittee be charged with what actions should be taken on the proposed mining ordinance.”

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl pushed back.

“It appears that the three-member committee is both supposed to recommend the final action and recommend the process to take people to the final action and whether it should be a three-member committee at all,” Kiehl said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

But with skepticism from only two other Assembly members, Loren Jones and Maria Gladziszewski, Kiehl was overruled.

It’s not entirely clear why the Assembly is looking at the mining ordinance now. It’s historically been a divisive issue in Juneau. The most obvious motive would be to reopen the AJ gold mine which has been idle since 1944.

Others have speculated that there’s interest in other parts of the borough. Assemblywoman Beth Weldon, who brought the mining proposal to the Assembly, said as much at Monday’s meeting.

“We’re more likely to have mining out the road at Herbert (River) or Peterson (River) right now than we are at AJ. No one’s even looking at AJ right now. People are looking out the road, though,” Weldon said.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council has been organizing opposition to changing the mining ordinance. After the meeting, the group’s mine specialist Guy Archibald said he was disappointed with the Assembly majority.

“I think the more they try to fast-track the process the more divisive it’s going to be. Now we have the mayor and the city manager not even agreeing,” Archibald said. “This is going to be a long, resource-intensive process and that’s not what we needed here. And that’s not what any mining company wants to see, either.”

The mayor said he’d name the three-member mining subcommittee at the June 26 meeting. In the meantime he invited any of the other eight Assembly members interested to apply to him directly.

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