Report: Leave contaminated Hawk Inlet seafloor alone

A new state report recommends against dredging to clean up metal-soaked sediment in a body of water near Greens Creek mine.

Last week, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft document reconfirming that two portions of Hawk Inlet are contaminated well beyond standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. There are few indications that the contamination is entering the region’s food chain, the report concludes, but it recommends increased monitoring to ensure that remains the case.

The report is not groundbreaking, but it compiles the most up-to-date research on an area that has garnered scrutiny during the past year.

Last year, a seal harvested in the area prompted increased scrutiny. Friends of Admiralty Island studied the seal and found high concentrations of mercury.

A report issued in February by DEC and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services determined that the animals of the area remain safe to eat: The health of all animals cannot be judged from one specific seal.

In 1989, an ore spill dumped minerals into Hawk Inlet as Greens Creek began operating. Some of the minerals were recovered, but the ruins of a destroyed cannery precluded getting all the ore, which mixed with the inlet’s sediment.

Dredging the contaminated sediment “could disturb contaminated sediments, and might spread the contaminants throughout currently uncontaminated areas of Hawk Inlet,” the report states.

For that reason, the state is recommending that the contaminated areas be left alone, allowing it to become covered by fresh sediment in natural processes.

The contaminated areas represent a small part of Hawk Inlet — one is at a point far from the inlet’s mouth, and the other point is directly under Greens Creek’s ore loading dock.

Other than those two areas, “it’s a very healthy water body,” said Gretchen Pikul of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The contamination does not appear to be spreading rapidly from the sediment into the water or the area’s native animals.

K.J. Metcalf is president of Friends of Admiralty Island and said he disagrees with the no-dredging recommendation.

“We think that it needs to be cleaned up,” he said.

Asked whether he worries that dredging could stir up and spread contaminated sediment, he responded that “it might for a short time, but I think by removing the major part of the spill, you’re going to lower the toxins in that area.”

Metcalf also said that he takes issue with the “pre-mining baseline” measurement used by DEC to judge the level of contamination in the Inlet. The state’s baseline comes from measurements taken between 1985 and 1988, when the mine was under construction but not yet shipping ore. He’d prefer the state use measurements from 1981, before construction.

If those measurements were used, they would show a greater increase in contamination since the mine’s construction.

Mike Satre, spokesman for Greens Creek, said the important takeaway is that even though two specific areas of sediment are contaminated, “the idea here is that there is still no issue with the overall water quality in Hawk Inlet.”

Last week’s draft report is another guidance document, and Greens Creek is continuing to monitor Hawk Inlet at many points, not just the contaminated ones.

He said staff are still reading through the report, and that the public will have ample time to comment on its recommendations.

The draft Hawk Inlet document is available at http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wqsar/index.htm. Comments may be emailed to gretchen.pikul@alaska.gov before 5 p.m. Nov. 14.

A public meeting on the report is planned for 4-6 p.m. Oct. 25 at 410 Willoughby Ave., Suite 303.

• Contact James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or at (907) 523-2258.

Read more news

Judge denies request to dismiss cruise lawsuit

Juneau music teacher suffers fatal heart attack

North Slope Legislative election lawsuit goes to judge

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

A sperm whale is seen in an undated photo published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA photo)
Alaska fisherman pleads guilty to federal charges after ordering crew to shoot whale

A Southeast Alaska troll fisherman has agreed to plead guilty to a… Continue reading

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Dave Scanlan, general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on April 13, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Dave Scanlan forced out as Eaglecrest’s general manager, says decision ‘came as a complete shock to me’

Resort’s leader for past 7 years says board seeking a “more office-process, paper-oriented” manager.

The entrance to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s Anchorage office is seen on Aug. 11, 2023. The state-owned AGDC is pushing for a massive project that would ship natural gas south from the North Slope, liquefy it and send it on tankers from Cook Inlet to Asian markets. The AGDC proposal is among many that have been raised since the 1970s to try commercialize the North Slope’s stranded natural gas. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Eight young Alaskans sue to block proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline

Plaintiffs cite climate change that harms their access to fish, wildlife and natural resources.

Most Read