The Juneau Ranger District opened its doors to the public on Wednesday night for an open house to receive information on the proposed North Extension Project at Hecla Greens Creek Mine.
Attendees were given a chance to review the supplemental draft environmental impact statement and ask questions of U.S. Forest Service and Hecla mining staff to help provide informed comments. Hecla is currently looking to extend production of the precious metals mine at the northern end of Admiralty Island National Monument beyond 2031, including 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. Alternatives in the new report would extend the mine’s life up to 40 years.
The 45-day comment period will remain open until May 8.
The Hecla mine in the Tongass National Forest is the nation’s largest silver producer and is considered unique in that it operates within a National Monument, according to the USFS.
Matthew Reece serves as the regional minerals and geology program manager at the USFS in Juneau, as well as the acting project manager for the Greens Creek Mine expansion. Reece said his office has yet to receive a large number of comments, but is expecting more since the comment period has only been open to the public since March 24. Reece said the forest service encourages people to look at the project more in depth at the USFS’ website detailing the proposed expansion options.
“We’ve received a handful of comments, probably under 15 comments,” Reece said. “Most of what we’ve received so far have been supportive of the project. We never really know what to expect and that’s what this process is for, to allow the public to get another look at it while getting direct questions answered so they can be able to prepare some more informed comments.”
A summary of the alternatives presented are as follows:
— No action: Hecla will proceed with the disposal of tailings as authorized in the agreement made over a decade ago. Hecla will continue using the existing disposal facility that could reach capacity by 2025. Environmental reclamation of the disposal facility would take place after production ends.
— Hecla’s proposed expansion: This alternative would include 2.3 acres of new surface disturbance within the area as well as extend the existence of the mine for 12 to 18 years. This expansion of the disposal facility would also call for the relocation or development of new infrastructure while also utilizing existing facilities to minimize the new surface disturbance.
— B-Road West Relocation 1: This would include 2.9 acres of new surface disturbance and would extend the mine for 17 to 28 years. Additionally, this alternative would call for relocating a portion of a road to the west side of the extended tailings stack instead of the east side, which would avoid design challenges and remove elevation-related constraints in the design of the tailings stack. This alternative would call for the tailings stack to extend to the eastern edge of the existing lease boundary and provide more storage capacity than Hecla’s existing proposal.
— B-Road West Relocation 2: This alternative includes 6.8 acres of new surface disturbance and extends the life of the mine by 27 to 40 years. It would also call for the relocation of a portion of the existing road to the west side instead of the east, but the tailings stack would extend beyond the eastern edge of the existing lease and provide substantially more storage capacity than the other B-Road alternative.
Longtime Angoon resident Erica Carlson attended the open house on Wednesday with her son to express her concerns regarding the annexation of Admiralty Island.
“We’ve opposed it since the beginning and that’s where my family is from,” Carlson said. “I want my children and grandchildren to grow up knowing Admiralty Angoon as a whole, and when I’m looking at these pictures they’re trying to expand the deposits and the waste and that’s affecting the food, not just the deer, but the fish, too, and that’s the best place for fish for us. It’s going to affect our generations and that’s what I want to oppose. I think altogether, big picture, it’s all intertwined and people just get pieces here and there, so we’re here to try and observe exactly what is going on.”
Sam Smith has been a Juneau resident for the past 40 years and served as the project engineering manager when the Greens Creek Mine was first designed and built. Smith said he ultimately supports any expansion needed for the mine to continue operations.
“I think the mine should have as much space that they can possibly have for the expansion of the mine’s workings,” Smith said.
Other comments from the public Wednesday night centered around the long-term environmental impact, which according to Juneau resident Guy Archibald, none of the current alternatives presented are taking into account.
“In no way does any of this monitoring that they’re doing, whether they’re measuring dust or measuring water chemistry, even answer the question ‘is the mine creating irreparable damage to the monument?’” Archibald said. “It’s not even designed to to that, so we keep asking that they repeat the baseline studies that were done prior to the mine, species, diversity and population, and then blood, heavy metal loading in the blood of the upper trophic level, deer, bear and eagles, because they have all of that baseline data, if they would repeat it now they would get some idea as to whether the mine is or isn’t creating harm.”
KJ Metcalf, a Juneau resident of 64 years, added: “I was the first ranger on Admiralty monument with the forest service, and all of the agencies were involved in the original design of the mine and designing the monitoring were adamant that there had to be a pre-mining baseline and that it had to be replicated every 10 or 15 years to track the changes that could be attributed to the mine or just other causes, and so I’m very disappointed that’s never been used and I think it’s a huge opportunity loss,” Metcalf said. “There’s a lot of monitoring going on, but there’s nothing that looks at the harm and that’s what that did, so that’s key, that has to be replicated.”
“The Forest Service recognizes the importance of mineral resources to the well-being of the nation and encourages mineral exploration and development as part of our multiple-use mandate,” said Acting Tongass Forest Supervisor Frank Sherman in a press release. “At the same time, our experts work toward minimizing the impacts of mining activities on other forest resources by working closely with the state and other federal agencies to ensure that measures are in place to protect water quality and nearby aquatic habitats.”
Written comments can be submitted several ways:
• Electronically at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57306
• Fax to 907-586-8808
• Mail to 8510 Mendenhall Loop Rd, Juneau AK 99801. Attention: North Extension Project
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.