By Compiled By Shane Lasley
North of 60 Mining News 

Barr offers voice of reason

NANA spokeswoman travels state warning Alaskans about the 'devastating effects' of 'deceptive anti-mining initiatives'

 


Rosie Barr, spokeswoman for NANA's "Voices of Reason Campaign," told Mining News that anti-mining initiatives expected to come before Alaska voters on this fall's ballot would shut down existing mines like the huge Red Dog zinc-lead mine in Northwest Alaska and prevent the permitting of future mines, many of which would be developed on Alaska Native corporation lands. In undertaking this campaign, NANA is fighting to retain the land ownership and mineral rights granted to all Alaska Natives under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

MN: What is the mission of NANA's "Voices of Reason" campaign?

Barr: The mission of the campaign has been to educate the public on the benefits of mining, particularly in the NANA region. We also wanted to ensure that correct information is out there about Red Dog.


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MN: You have been outspoken on the subject of the "Clean Water Initiatives." If voted into law, what effect will these initiatives have on mining in Alaska?

Barr: If the initiatives are voted into law, we, along with other Alaskans, will never be able to develop our mineral resources. We have other mineral prospects located on NANA land, including the bornite deposit that our shareholders are very excited about. In the Calista Corp. region, the Donlin (Creek) Mine would most certainly be affected. Additionally, existing mines such as Red Dog would be shut down. The effects across the entire state would be absolutely devastating.

MN: Over the last several months you have talked with various organizations and communities about the initiatives. What are the concerns of people who are facing the prospect of mines being developed in their region?

Barr: Actually, here at NANA we've had a great group of employees speaking out against the anti-mining initiatives. I've been very fortunate to work with these dedicated folks who are very passionate about the opportunities and benefits that our shareholders have received because of the development of the Red Dog Mine. NANA's early leaders were instrumental in the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which granted to Alaska Natives land ownership and mineral rights. Today we are fighting to retain these rights that Congress guaranteed.


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The concerns that I have heard are primarily about protection of resources such as water and fish.

These protections are written into the regulations that govern mining.

Mining is one of the most regulated industries in the United States, and Alaska has stringent standards that the mining industry must meet in order to begin or continue operations. For example, Red Dog actively and regularly complies with 70 permits and more than 40 regulatory agreements and environmental plans that contain more than 6,000 individual stipulations that involve over 27,000 tasks it must and does meet on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

There are over 31,000 sampling events that occur during the summer months.

When the public hears this, they are amazed at the level of oversight that currently exists.

MN: Since you began engaging the public about mining in Alaska and the effects of the initiatives, have you noticed a change in people's attitudes on these subjects?

Barr: Yes.

I've talked with a number of people with diverse backgrounds.

And the change in attitude is striking once people are given an opportunity to learn more about mining and the rigorous permitting process and regulatory oversight that exists within the state of Alaska.

They are amazed to hear of the benefits that our NANA shareholders have received as a result of the development of the Red Dog Mine.


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I've heard a number of positive comments back from residents from other areas of the state who are impressed with the long-term investment that we have made in our land and our people. The benefits that we are receiving from the Red Dog Mine will continue far into the future for many generations to come.

I am very proud of that.

MN: The proponents of the initiatives say their efforts are directed at the proposed Pebble Mine Project in Southwest Alaska. However, they also say that if Red Dog were located in Bristol Bay it would be an environmental disaster. Is this a fair assessment of Red Dog's track record?

Barr: Absolutely not.

These claims are misleading and unethical.

The fish are thriving in the Wulik River.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has conducted numerous studies at Red Dog which demonstrate that fish are healthy and that the fish populations are significantly greater than they were before the mine began operations.

I recently heard an estimate from one of the (Fish and Game) biologists that nearly 30,000 more fish inhabit the Wulik River than prior to mining.

In fact, baseline studies show that before the mine began operations, Red Dog Creek had very low ph levels and therefore was very acidic.

There were very high concentrations of metals because of the naturally occurring mineralization in the area.

There was no vegetation near the creek and no fish either.

The mine rerouted the creek around the ore body and now there is a healthy population of Dolly Varden and Grayling.

Fish and Game requested that Red Dog build a fish weir to keep the fish from migrating up the stream and into the mine area.

The water from the tributaries above the Red Dog Mine also has high metals content and low ph, which is not supportive of aquatic life.

The treated water that Red Dog discharges has very little metals content and in fact has less lead and copper in it than most municipal drinking water systems that provide drinking water to Alaskans.

Red Dog's discharge water helps to dilute the negative impact that the water upstream from the mine has on Red Dog Creek.

Eliminating the (mine's) discharge water would have an adverse affect on the fisheries in that area.

MN: A recent study by the University of Alaska Anchorage says that an ever-increasing number of rural Alaska residents are migrating from the villages to larger population centers in the state. Do you believe that mining can help keep residents in their communities?

Barr: I believe so.

One of the greatest challenges to living within a village is the lack of jobs.

You cannot have sustainable communities without opportunities for employment.

Mining provides a variety of job opportunities with excellent salaries.

A great example of mining resulting in healthy communities is in the village of Noatak, which is the village closest to the Red Dog Mine.

There are approximately 500 residents.

Since the mine began operations in 1989, 123 Noatak residents have been employed at the mine.

There are currently nineteen employees from the village, and only two have migrated to Anchorage.

There are still numerous challenges to living in rural Alaska, such as the incredibly high cost of housing.

Freight costs are a huge factor.

A one-thousand-square-foot home can cost well over $100,000 just for materials alone.

In Noatak, Red Dog employees have taken advantage of the reduced shipping costs that Teck Cominco receives and have had their construction materials shipped to the Red Dog port, and from there air freighted the materials to Noatak.

This has resulted in significant savings.

I'm truly impressed by these employees, who during their time off have built their beautiful homes themselves.

These employees are also leaders within their community and are also subsistence hunters and gatherers who share their bounty with others in the community.

MN: Can the economic and infrastructure benefits that mining could bring to rural communities coexist with the subsistence lifestyle and traditional values of rural Native Alaskans?

Barr: I believe that mining and subsistence lifestyles are non-conflicting.

MN: What effects has the Red Dog Mine had on NANA shareholders, especially those who still live in the region?

Barr: Our shareholders have had significant benefits from the Red Dog Mine.

Red Dog has employed over 1,100 shareholders since the mine began operations in 1989.

The opportunity for employment was one of the primary drivers behind NANA shareholders deciding to move forward with the development of the mine. NANA also has engaged in a number of contracting opportunities at Red Dog. In the third quarter of 2007, we reached a significant milestone, where the financial investment that Teck Cominco made in the mine was paid off, along with the repayment of advance net smelter royalties of 4.5 percent.

We then moved into a 25 percent share of net proceeds.

Because of the increased revenue from the mine, we have been able to invest those funds towards long-term economic stability for our people.

Our shareholders overwhelmingly approved the formation of an Elders Settlement Trust at the annual meeting a few weeks ago. This trust will benefit all shareholders that are 65 years of age and older through the payment of an additional dividend from the earnings of that trust.

The cost of living in our rural villages is very high, with diesel fuel currently at $8 a gallon in some villages.

Those costs will increase once the summer barge shipments come in.

The trust will help our elders at a time when they need it most.

Our board of directors has approved a scholarship endowment for our shareholders, which will be funded annually from the revenue received from the mine. The goal is that the endowment will be fully funded in the future and will allow any shareholder to receive full funding in their pursuit of a college or vocational education. That's incredible forward planning. NANA is also reinvesting the monies we've received into our businesses so that when the revenue from Red Dog ends, these companies' profits will supplant the royalty payments currently being received so that our future generations all benefit from the development of the mine.

But the benefits are often intangible. We have a lot of hope and opportunity that exists because of the development of the Red Dog mine. We have children in the villages that are looking forward to working at Red Dog when they grow up. It is so gratifying to see the smiles and excitement on their faces when they arrive at Red Dog for the Job Shadow or Career Awareness programs. That, to me, is priceless.

These children are also benefiting from the construction of new schools within their villages. The Northwest Arctic Borough, which was formed primarily because of the development of the mine, has used their payment in lieu of taxes that they receive from Red Dog for school bonds. Red Dog is the only taxpayer within the NANA region. The borough also has used its revenue to pursue other means of economic development within the region, another example of mining helping to create sustainable communities.

I also need to point out that NANA redistributes approximately 62 percent of our Red Dog royalties with the other ANCSA regional corporations in Alaska. These corporations, in turn, redistribute 50 percent of these monies to their village corporations. So the benefits from Red Dog are felt across the state of Alaska. Many of these corporations are able to provide benefits to their shareholders and, in some cases, remain financially solvent.

MN: What advice would you give to exploration/mining companies exploring for and developing mineral deposits in rural Alaska?

Barr: I would tell them to engage the local communities at the earliest possible opportunity.

You can never have too much communication.

Local residents can and should be the biggest stakeholders in the development and operation of a mine.

They are a significant resource that the industry needs to develop.

The exploration companies also need to invest in extensive baseline studies.

This information will be invaluable to the company in the long run.

They need to develop local capacity by training, educating and hiring locally for work during exploration, feasibility, development and operation of the mine.

Ideally, the work force will be comprised primarily of local residents.

This is critical also in the environmental oversight of the mine.

Communication to local residents on mining issues should be provided by employees who have been hired locally.

That is why it is so critical to develop the work force at the earliest opportunity.

The exploration and mining companies have a critical role in the development of sustainable communities in rural Alaska.

They need to utilize local contractors to the greatest extent possible and engage the local entities, such as the regional and village corporations at the onset of exploration to discuss opportunities and inform them of their plans prior to beginning their work. 

MN: The sponsors of 07WATR are going to drop the litigation and not have it put on the ballot. This initiative is the most prohibitive of the two slated to go on the ballot in August, pending a ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court. What is your opinion of this move by the sponsors of 07WATR?

Barr: We do not know if the sponsors have the power to pull the initiative off the ballot.

It appears that the Lt.

Governors office is not sure if they can do this either.

We will continue our campaign against these deceptive initiatives and evaluate as more information is available.

I believe that the sponsors of 07 WATR are finally admitting that they have been misleading the residents of Alaska.

Alaskans deserve better than this.

The sponsors have basically stated that they understood at the onset that these initiatives were unconstitutional, yet subjected our state to a barrage of misleading ads and attempted to create controversy where it was unnecessary.

They've stated in their ads that these initiatives won't affect existing mines.

Yet Alaska law states that you cannot target a specific project through the initiative or legislative process.

The initiatives had to be written broadly and because of this, they will affect both existing and new mines in Alaska.

We cannot allow this to happen.

I am very thankful that Alaskans are speaking out, loudly and clearly, against these deceptive initiatives.

MN: Will the "Voices of Reason" campaign continue to engage the public on mining issues after the public votes on the initiatives this year?

Barr: We'll need to evaluate the circumstances at that point. It is obvious that the public doesn't understand the benefits of mining or the rigorous permitting and regulatory environment that mines operate under. The Voices of Reason campaign was designed for multiple voices. We have focused on Red Dog at this point but the campaign can evolve for other projects around the state.

 

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