The Southeast community of Haines has the reputation of being polarized. It lived up to that reputation last week with two vastly different events about a potential metals mine.
About 30 people sat across plastic tables to hear presentations at the Chilkat Valley Mining Forum over the weekend. Speakers by and large were supportive of a mine at the Palmer Project north of Haines.
Garfield MacVeigh is the CEO of Constantine Metal Resources, the Canadian exploration firm behind the potential mine project. He said this was an opportunity for the community to get answers to their questions. He took notes when residents chimed in.
“I hope they walk away knowing that we’re listening to everybody, doing our best to listen to everybody. I think that’s critical. I think it’s important that we offer the information that we can to people, so they know what’s going on,” he said.
He was among nine speakers. Presentations ranged from deep dives into a copper-silver-zinc- barite mine plan to community impacts of mining. But there has been push back by some quarters.
A report commissioned by mine opponents last year suggested a mine north of Haines could bring social problems.
Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data — and formerly Hecla Greens Creek mine—said she was asked to speak to the findings of that report. She found the report’s assertion that mine workers could increase alcoholism and drug abuse in the community was flawed. She says it relies on data from coal mining regions in the Lower 48. She pulled numbers from this region.
“We’re just not seeing these trends. Mining is our one sector in Southeast Alaska that is completely drug free. If you want to get a job in mining in Southeast Alaska you have to take a drug test,” she said.
People asked what a future mine could do for Haines. There were questions about investment in roads, sewers and schools if hundreds of miners move to town.
“Let’s say like, for example, sewage treatment, where it might be beneficial for the mine to contribute in some regard to the cost of upgrading the sewage treatment, such that the sewage treatment then would be serviceable for the mine as well. And that would apply to virtually any of these infrastructure questions,” suggested an audience member.
But as Constantine’s Liz Cornejo explained, a minerals exploration company like hers spends investor’s money – other people’s cash – to see if a mine could work here.
“I can answer a little bit of that,” she said.
“And that’s, I think, exactly what this forum is meant for and what the PEA (preliminary economic assessment) is meant for. Is what will the mine potentially need and, and then the community can look at it and say, ‘Well, hey, this is going to be a burden or this is an opportunity…’ Or is this a public private partnership? Is it a private business opportunity, is it a public entity thing that’s paid through property tax and sales tax…”
Those types of answers would come later if and when there’s a concrete plan for a mine.
There are critical voices in Haines. But they were mostly across town, meeting on a different day.
“The Mining Forum Committee has been completely overtaken by the pro-development side,” said Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s Guy Archibald. The environmental group’s staff scientist spoke at an event co-organized by Lynn Canal Conservation, a local green group. Here’s a snippet from his talk on mines.
“What’s happening is the mines are going big. They’re bigger, more complex, doing it faster and harder and pushing more equipment. And guess what? The failure rate is increasing, not decreasing,” he said.
It was a much different tone than the Chilkat Valley Mining Forum. Both The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, a local tribal government, and Lynn Canal Conservation used to take part but left in 2017 over concerns that criticism of mining wasn’t welcome.
But Archibald says the community should stick together — even when folks disagree.
“I gave a talk at the Sheldon museum six years ago and asked that people not to get divided. It’s almost impossible not to. I would just ask that as the debate goes on you allow people to come from their place, be honest about it,” Archibald said.
But that’s difficult here. Especially as conversation over a potential mine is divided between separate groups on separate days.