Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cyanide? Alaskans, don't worry your pretty little heads about it

If y'all haven't noticed, gold has been up at the $600 around $600 per ounce mark for quite a while now, courtesy, largely, of Dubya's military misadventures.

The result: a boom in exploration and mine permitting not seen since, arguably, the first gold rushes at the turn of the last century. (Man, does typing that make me feel o-l-d.) And this activity has been encouraged by the least-popular-unindicted-governor-ever, Frank "And-Don't-Let-the-Door-Hit-You-in-the-Ass" Murkowski. He's been issuing press releases trumpeting his 'Roads to Resources' projects through the entirety of his term. But, in Nome at least, he might have built one road too many.*

Enter, stage-right, which if you bear with me, corresponds to 'west' and we're talking about west, of here, namely Nome... industrial scale hardrock mining, a highly fast-tracked mine project, a whole lot of nothing in terms of looking at the environmental consequences, an outstanding quantity of Nova Gold-don't-worry-your-pretty-little-heads-about-it-p.r. and a surprising number of pissed off Nomeites.

Murkowski's latest 'road to resource' is the upgrade of the Glacier Creek Road right outside of Nome. The area, no stranger to small-scale placer operations, is one of the proposed sites where Nova Gold wants to utterly despoil conduct open pit mining.

The transport and use of large quantities of cyanide make people nervous. The utter absence of any plans to deal with an accident makes people (the first responders in particular) nervous. The two open pit mines** at Rock Creek and Big Hurrah 30-some mile east make subsistence users nervous. And the long-term consequences (hello there, mine tailings!) of trying to deal with the toxic waste generated by the use of cyanide make one question the short-term (an estimated 5 year mine operation) benefits.

Or, as one more knowledgable friend of mine said recently, "All tailings piles leak."

Or, as former Nome Fish and Game fisheries guy Charlie Lean said:

"Pumps are going to wear out, ditches are going to erode, the plastic liner over tailings will degrade. A 30-year budget for maintaining the tailing pile is unrealistic," he said.***

Of course, DNR's large mine permitting honcho, Ed Fogels, downplayed the questions of safety, as reported in The Nome Nugget, saying that Nomeites ought to look at other big mines in Alaska that use cyanide to mine gold.

Uh, Ed, would that be Illinois Creek where the company that was using a cyanide heap leach went bankrupt and there wasn't enough in the reclamation bonds to properly close or cover reclamation costs... So the State of Alaska ended up putting out an RFP to reopen the thing to make enough money to properly do so... and lo and behold, the company that got the bid happened to have a former DNR commissioner and former Fort Knox manager on board?

I'm smelling the Orwell, here, I mean, does anyone else find it just fatally ironic that they reopened the mine so they could afford to close it????

Or Ed, do you remember Ryan Lode, near Ester, where cyanide (allegedly, must cover our butts) from the mine turned in up at least one residential well??

Despite all Nova Gold's assurances, it's hard to buy their p.r. when they're seeking to have the Snake River reclassified so they don't have to follow as stringent regulations at Rock Creek regarding water quality. That might mean they're gonna pollute it, don't ya think?

Seriously, we need to rethink what we will tolerate for a few year's jobs - particularly when the aftermath and waste will linger long after we, our children, and their children have long become worm food.

For more info on Rock Creek, check out The Nugget's coverage.
For excellent reading on Big Gold's behavior here in Alaska, check out NAEC's mining page,
particularly 14 Fort Knox Facts.
And for more general info on large, industrial scale mines, go visit the Mineral Policy Center's site. It's linked over there on the right of this blog.

In the meantime, it is permits all round for Nova Gold so far. They plan to begin operations in 2007.

*And don't you just find in this a bizarre symmetry, what with the furor over all the 'Roads to Nowhere?' Maybe we just ought to leave road-building alone for a little while, and fix the ones we already have. And make the industries that want them built pay for them themselves. Hello, Timber Industry! Hello Big Gold!
**Not that they couldn't go ahead and amend their plan to include more pits. Fort Knox has sprawled far beyond its original proposal.

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