Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Great Alaska Crater Mine

Mines never worried me much until I started looking at them closer in regards to putting one in at the headwaters of the rivers that breed the largest runs of salmon left on the planet. I looked into a small mine near me in Southern Oregon and found that it is now a Super-Fund site. What would a mine nine thousand times as large end up being?

A little village near the proposed mine site in Bristol Bay commissioned a study by the best guys available and they said the same thing. The salmon runs in those rivers will be history. And a cursory look at all the other hard-rock mines in the world with lots of water, not to mention seismic activity, show it will be deja vue all over again.

But the reason for my writing on mining, ignoring my affection for the ten thousand jobs related to the Bristol Bay salmon runs, is nimrod economic analysis by the mine promoters. In particular, the public face of the mine in Alaska, John Shiveley. Naturally the investors, two giant foreign mining companies, won't be spouting off insight into Bush Alaska economics. They sure need an Alaskan to do the spouting, even if he is just a professional spouter. Makes no difference either if he came to Alaska recently to seek his fortune. He did buy a house in Alaska at least. I assume.

I was going to reprint the Opinion piece he put in the Anchorage Daily News, but I won't bore you with it. The crux of it was that he was saying that the villages in the area are losing population and that the mine would reverse this trend and create all kinds of good for the area. And of course, they don't intend to wipe out the salmon either. There are all kinds of sayings about good intentions, such as the road to hell is paved with them..

The thing is, "once they've gone down to Paree, there is no getting them back on the farm." Alaska Natives going to Anchorage and not wanting to go back to the village is not a new phenomenon, and of course it is one that John Shiveley chooses to disregard. Even if they did work for a short time at a mine, it would be so-long to village life. The city girls and boys and sights and activities are just too exciting to pass up. Who can blame them. It's happening all over the state All over the country for that matter.

I'm from Petersburg and I've lived in the village of Kake, so I know something of small town life in Alaska. Besides having been the economist for the state's only commercial fishing bank and a Governor Cowper appointee in fisheries economic development. Certainly towns shrink when jobs go away: just look at the mining ghost towns of the old west.  Petersburg, Kodiak, and in a similar fashion, Kake, are all losing population and they are centrally located in their regional fishing industries. There are a lot of factors at play that Shiveley fails to regard.

And don't forget the principle of the Alaskan Sourdough: "Sour on Alaska and not enough dough to leave." I saw it all the time in Petersburg. Many fishermen who worked up to a good sized boat and income moved his base of operations to Washington state. Of me and my four siblings, only one stayed in Alaska. I stuck it out for fifty years, but all of us could have stayed and worked in the town that our great-grandparents helped found, as the first white couple to put down roots there.

The point is that Mr. Shiveley's analysis of people staying in their villages to work like Morlocks in that mine holds about as much water as the mine wastes not harming the runs of salmon and all the wildlife.

And when all that mine waste water starts running down the rivers, what is it going to do to the clam beds that the walrus at Round Island feed on, and the walrus themselves? Floating 'tusks up' could become a byword associated with gold mining for the next five hundred years.The word down here is don't eat the fish that come from the Gainesville Reservoir downstream from the old silver mine. Cow Creek is dead and I hear there isn't any wildlife down along that creek.

It's not simple like the old days when gold miners in the Yukon would get frozen out and come down to Petersburg and trade gold nugget jewlery for a room in my great grandparents boarding house for the winter. If shooting from the hip is the best the Pebble Partnership can do on economic and environmental analysis, they might as well just do it right and shoot themselves in the foot. Otherwise, keep it in the holster, bucko.