Miners, explorers, suppliers and others interested in Alaska’s mining industry got a generous helping of surf and turf during the Alaska Miners Association 2010 Annual Convention and Trade Show, held the first week of November at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel.
Mining and Fisheries, the theme of this year’s convention, also was the subject of a two-day course held Nov. 1-2. The class provided miners with information on the importance of the fishing industry to the economy and culture of Alaska and on fish; water quality; baseline studies and permitting.
Alongside the fish was a course and presentation on rare earth elements, prepared by two of the world’s leading REE experts. Geosciences technical sessions, highlights and updates from Alaska’s operating mines and exploration projects as well as information on issues affecting Alaska miners rounded out the menu.
Invaluable fishGreystar Pacific Seafood Ltd. President Steve Grabacki, who coordinated the Mining and Fisheries short course, also talked to the mining community about the importance of fish in Alaska.
“Alaska produces more seafood than the rest of the 49 states combined,” said the fisheries consultant.
In addition to Alaska’s commercial fishing industry, worth US$2 billion in export value in 2009, sport and subsistence fishing are also important economic drivers in the state.
The fisheries consultant explained that while an estimated cash value of some US$250 million can be put on the 53 million pounds of subsistence fish and game meat harvested in Alaska annually, a dollar value cannot be placed on the family traditions; self-reliance; and cultural significance associated with the millennia-long practice of hunting and fishing in Alaska.
“Subsistence is by no means an alternative to shopping in a store – subsistence is the store, Grabacki explained. “That is where Native peoples have gotten their food for 10,000 years.”
Habitat plays key roleThe Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Habitat is charged with the difficult task of making certain that mining and other development projects are built and operated in such a way as to protect fish and their environment.
ADF&G, Division of Habitat Biologist Ron Benkert said, “Our goal is to ensure that any type of a project is properly designed and constructed, and is done in such a way as to minimize any kind of impacts to the fish resources of this state.”
“Our No. 1 goal is to avoid an impact if at all possible, and then the next step is to minimize and then after that, its mitigation,” he added.
Benkert, who is the large project coordinator for Southcentral and Southwest Alaska, explained that Habitat becomes involved with mining projects from their inception phase, assisting mining companies and environmental consultants with determining what extent of baseline information will be needed to permit a project.
The Habitat biologist said identifying fish species, populations and available habitats in areas where disturbances from mining and associated infrastructure are proposed to take place are some of the key baseline data required to permit a mine.
“It is really a matter of scale as to how much information needs to be collected so that we can adequately analyze the impacts of the project,” Benkert explained. “Something on the scope of a Pebble project – they have been collecting data out there for years and years, and we have a huge amount of baseline data associated with that project.”
Habitat’s involvement does not end when the project is permitted.
“We do monitoring at a lot of the large mines in the state. We monitor at Fort Knox, Red Dog, and Greens Creek (and) we just started doing some monitoring out at Pebble this year,” Benkert said.
Dam design?The Pebble project in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska is ground zero for the ‘mining versus fishing’ debate in Alaska. Pebble opposition contends that mining the enormous copper-gold-molybdenum deposit poses too great a risk to the world -class salmon fisheries in the region, while project proponents assert that it is too early to make that judgment.
Pebble partners Anglo American plc and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. have yet to present a design for a proposed mine at the controversial deposit and are hesitant to say when or if they will begin permitting.
Outgoing Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin expressed his ire at anti-Pebble advertisements that depict a massive mine with colossal tailings impoundment dams.
“Frankly, on Pebble, I don’t have a dam design. So, I am not sure how these ads have pictures; and we certainly don’t design dams this day and age as I see in those ads,” Irwin told attendees of a Nov. 3 luncheon at the AMA convention.
Irwin, who will hand his post as DNR commissioner over to the current Attorney General Dan Sullivan when Gov. Sean Parnell begins his first full term in December, commended the environmental and safety record of Alaska’s six operating large-scale mines and urged the industry to remain diligent.
“We cannot compromise on the requirements of the law, and we can not compromise on the protection of the environment,” Irwin said. “We have got to correctly design these facilities. We can’t cut corners, or we are exposing everyone in this room to being shut down.”
“The convention theme is fisheries and mining. Done correctly, we can and must have both, and I propose that no one in the State of Alaska cares more about mining and fishing than the people in this room,” the DNR commissioner concluded.
Fishermen on handWhile the convention was designed to educate miners about fisheries, it also afforded fishermen an opportunity to learn about mining. Representatives from United Fisherman of Alaska attended the final day of the event.
UFA President Arni Thomson, Vice President Bruce Wallace and Executive Director Mark Vinsel were introduced at a Nov. 5 luncheon. UFA represents 37 commercial fishing organizations from fisheries across Alaska.
During his presentation, Grabacki addressed the importance of creating dialogue between the two long-lived and cherished Alaska industries.
“I want to thank you, the mining industry. We are absolutely thrilled that you are allowing us to take this much time to hear about fisheries and how important they are. The more we understand about each other’s industries, each other’s points of view; the less fear, the less anxiety, and the less anger we will have,” he added.