Hecla Green’s Creek environment/surface operations manager Martin Stearns (left) listens to Angoon resident Floyd Kim express his opposition to the four alternatives for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project, of which includes expanding its 8.5-million-cubic yard disposal facility to hold up to an additional five million cubic yards of tailings and waste rock storage. Kim was among the around 15 residents who joined the meeting held Friday afternoon in Angoon. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Hecla Green’s Creek environment/surface operations manager Martin Stearns (left) listens to Angoon resident Floyd Kim express his opposition to the four alternatives for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project, of which includes expanding its 8.5-million-cubic yard disposal facility to hold up to an additional five million cubic yards of tailings and waste rock storage. Kim was among the around 15 residents who joined the meeting held Friday afternoon in Angoon. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Angoon residents speak out against Greens Creek Mine expansion

“We have no real power to stop what’s going on — even if we fight it seems to happen anyways.”

ANGOON — A project that would extend the life of a precious metals mine at the northern end of Admiralty Island National Monument faced widespread opposition Friday from residents of the island’s only settlement.

[New study digs into alternatives for Greens Creek Mine expansion]

U.S. Forest Service officials and mine management were among the 15 or so Angoon leaders and residents who joined the meeting at Angoon’s city and community center discussing the the four alternatives proposed for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project.

Hecla Greens Creek Mine is the largest silver mine in the U.S. It’s been in operation at its site since 1989 and is the only mine in the country that has permission to operate inside a national monument. Alternatives in the new report would allow the mine to operate beyond 2031 and would extend the mine’s life up to 40 years.

The mine produced 9.7 million ounces of silver and reported $335.1 million in sales in 2022, according to Hecla. The mine also produced about 48,000 ounces of gold, 19,500 tons of lead and 52,300 tons of zinc.

The mine has permission to operate on the island because it had preexisting rights via its claim to the area which predated the island’s establishment as a monument. Angoon is also located on the island and is its only settlement. It’s around 40 miles south of the mine along Icy Strait and has a population of around 320.

Of the Angoon residents who spoke during the multi-hour meeting, few — if any — residents expressed their support for the project. But, at the same time only a few were absolutely against the mine itself.

According to Mary Jean Duncan, chairperson of the Angoon city council, the city passed a resolution before the event that said it would not support any expansion unless a baseline study is conducted that can compare the impact of the mine before it began production to now.

That request closely mirrors an action urged by Friends of Admiralty Island, a conservation-focused nonprofit which recently released a study that alleged a dramatic increase of lead levels in Hawk Inlet’s marine ecosystem and land surrounding it on Admiralty Island is due to tailings released from the mine.

[New study links mine to elevated lead levels in Hawk Inlet]

The meeting’s discussion was torn, with much of the dissatisfaction from residents stemming from feelings that Hecla’s has not done enough to ensure the mine is not negatively impacting residents’ health, along with it not providing more to aid the villages’ fiscal stability and in the job sector.

Both Forest Service and Greens Creek officials said little throughout the multiple rounds of testimony by residents.

Peter Duncan, an Angoon city council member, former Greens Creek employee and resident of 55 years, gave testimony multiple times. He expressed worry that an expansion could worsen any potential health hazards currently associated with the mine.

“Are you going to take care of what could happen from the tailing if one of us gets sick from them?” he asked.

He said stronger communication between the three entities is what he thinks would be best for all parties involved.

Former Angoon mayor and resident Albert Howard agreed and said Angoon doesn’t have the resources to fight the expansion.

“It takes money to stop something like this, and Greens Creek has the money, and we don’t,” he said. “So, I’m asking you to look at our community and see what our needs are — and say ‘How can we help?’”

He, along with multiple other residents, said they feel like the village is constantly approached about things that could negatively affect its people, like pollution, but is seldom approached about opportunities or aid to the community. Many asked Hecla to offer more to the community as they feel the mine has disproportionately taken away things instead.

“We have no real power to stop what’s going on — even if we fight it seems to happen anyways,” he said. “People feel helpless with the things happening around us and people like you coming in and saying ‘This is what’s going to happen to us.’”

Floyd Kim added: “None of us can pick up and leave when the mine closes — this is our home,” he said. “I know you had rights to the island before it became a monument, but that doesn’t give you the right to pollute it — nobody has that right. If nothing else, join us and help the next generations.”

After the meeting, Green’s Creek environment/surface operations manager Martin Stearns said he learned a lot from the meeting and will take into consideration the request made by the residents. He and other Forest Service supervisors encouraged residents to fill out a public comment form via mail or online before the comment period ends on May 23.

According to Forest Supervisor Frank Sherman, the final proposed expansion is expected to be shared in December.

Stearns said it’s important that the mine hears residents’ concerns, but said he is also worried that there is “misinformation” being shared about the actual safety of the mine and its impact on the environment.

When asked what was the source of the misinformation, he pointed to Friends of Admiralty Island and its recent students.

“It doesn’t accurately reflect the facts of what’s being done,” he said. “Personally, yes I think it’s misinformation.”

Friends of Admiralty Island have previously defended their study.

Written comments can be submitted online at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57306, and faxed to (907) 586-8808. They can also be mailed to the Juneau Ranger District (“Attention: North Extension Project”), 8510 Mendenhall Loop Road, Juneau, AK, 99801.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

Peter Duncan, an Angoon city council member, former Greens Creek employee and resident of 55 years, gives testimony Friday afternoon during a meeting held in Angoon discussing the four alternatives for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project. Duncan was among several residents who expressed worry that an expansion could worsen any potential health hazards currently associated with the mine. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Peter Duncan, an Angoon city council member, former Greens Creek employee and resident of 55 years, gives testimony Friday afternoon during a meeting held in Angoon discussing the four alternatives for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project. Duncan was among several residents who expressed worry that an expansion could worsen any potential health hazards currently associated with the mine. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

This is a picture of a poster that was hung on the wall of the Angoon city community center Friday afternoon during a meeting about the four alternatives for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project. The poster outlined the fugitive dust deposition density of each proposal, including the no-action alternative. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

This is a picture of a poster that was hung on the wall of the Angoon city community center Friday afternoon during a meeting about the four alternatives for the Hecla Greens Creek Mine North Extension Project. The poster outlined the fugitive dust deposition density of each proposal, including the no-action alternative. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

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