Canadian Mine Causes Stir in Alaska Proposal to Strip Mountaintop Threatens to Disrupt a Way of Life and Unspoiled Wilderness. WHAT COST MINING? Series: Windows on America

By Yereth Rosen, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 1990 | Go to article overview

Canadian Mine Causes Stir in Alaska Proposal to Strip Mountaintop Threatens to Disrupt a Way of Life and Unspoiled Wilderness. WHAT COST MINING? Series: Windows on America


Yereth Rosen, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


AS Joe Hotch readies his little wooden red-and-white boat for the opening of the salmon runs one rainy Sunday morning, he wonders about the future of the inlet that provides his livelihood, and the rivers and streams that course through of his ancestral home.

Plans to develop a huge open-pit copper mine about 70 miles northwest of the Haines harbor, upstream from the glacier-fed waters that supply the fisheries, have cast doubt over the future, says Mr. Hotch, a weathered commercial fisherman with a bristly salt-and-pepper crew cut.

Hotch is chairman of the 150-member Klukwan Indian Council. He voices concern that the project will be unaffected by his protests and those of other Alaskans because the mine site is across the border in British Columbia.

"It's not our mine, so we have no power," he says.

Geddes Resources Ltd., with offices in Toronto and Vancouver, plans to slice the top off 6,500-foot Windy Craggy Peak to create one of North America's biggest copper mines.

The Windy Craggy deposit, expected to provide some 50 years of production, includes nearly 7 billion pounds of copper, more than 1 million ounces of gold, 20 million ounces of silver, and 290 million pounds of cobalt - reserves for up to 50 years of production, the company says.

Geddes sank $33.7 million (Canadian) into exploration through 1989 and is spending at least $12 million (Canadian) this year; the site already has an airstrip, camp, mine tunnels, and an eight-mile road plowed on a glacier.

"It's a sight to see," says Nancy Deschu, an Anchorage-based hydrologist with the National Park Service, who toured the site in June. "I don't think the US would permit that much activity without going through an environmental study."

The project has prompted an unprecedented joint review by Alaska, US, Canadian, and British Columbia provincial officials. Agencies from the four governments just finished reviewing Geddes's first draft of its project plan, and many are displeased.

Environment Canada, the nation's top environmental agency, citing unresolved questions about acid drainage, in June ordered the company to rewrite its mining plan. That decision has delayed the development for a year to 1995, Geddes president Gerald Harper said.

Alaska officials, who chided Geddes for devoting only a few lines of its five-volume draft plan to the project's effects on the state, said the mine would jeopardize valuable commercial fisheries based in the Alaskan towns of Haines and Yakutat.

State officials say Geddes plans to dump waste rock on glaciers - a technique the company admits is untested - and to build a tailings dam in Canada's most seismically active area that could poison the rivers and creeks that run into Alaska.

Trucking ore through Haines for shipment to Asia, the Alaskan officials say, would endanger the world's largest concentration of bald eagles, which gathers each fall in the Chilkat Valley Eagle Preserve to feast on salmon runs.

The Tatshenshini River is a world-famous rafting destination that runs just south of the mine site and in part through Glacier Bay National Monument. Rafting tour guides say rumbling ore trucks and the road that Geddes plans to build along the river banks would degrade the wilderness experience there. …

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