EPA study found that Red Dog Mine benefited region

COMPASS: Other points of view

February 7, 2009 

NANA would like to offer a different view regarding the recent EPA study on Red Dog Mine than the Jan. 29 Daily News presented. The headline, which focused on subsistence harvests, missed the real news in the study.

EPA found that operating Red Dog for an additional twenty years will have a substantial positive effect on public health and well-being in our NANA region, as the quality of education and schools, community infrastructure and services supported by Red Dog continues. Red Dog Mine makes a positive contribution to the entire state. The environmental study reports Red Dog's total 2007 Alaska spending at $321 million, including $109 million paid in taxes to the state of Alaska. Furthermore, Red Dog created 543 direct jobs in 2007 with a payroll of $46 million.

This was accomplished while still, according to EPA's study, protecting downstream drinking water and providing for a healthy fish population. Now that's news!

The study did report reduced beluga and caribou harvests by nearby villagers. This data came from subsistence surveys conducted in 2008 in Kivalina and Noatak. This traditional knowledge is important and must be considered when reviewing any potential project in rural Alaska. However, EPA fails to distinguish between causation and correlation. It just assumes that changes to subsistence harvests occurring over the last 20 years are caused by Red Dog Mine. There is much more to the story.

For example, according to Jim Magdanz, a state subsistence resource specialist in Kotzebue, the 2007 Fish and Game survey showed that the overall subsistence harvest has remained consistent in Kivalina from 1967 to 2007. The per capita harvest in Kivalina for all subsistence foods is comparable to (and often exceeds) other villages within the NANA region. The per capita harvest has decreased primarily because the population has grown and the eating habits have changed with the introduction of non-native foods.

Red Dog respects regional subsistence priorities and, with NANA, formed a subsistence committee to help guide mine operations. With representatives from Noatak and Kivalina, the eight member committee meets quarterly to further the protection of the subsistence resource.

With subsistence counsel guidance, Red Dog has implemented strict policies that govern the operation of vehicles on the road. Closure of the road for several hours to several days for the caribou migration is a common occurrence and is considered part of the normal operation of the state-owned road. A majority of the truck drivers are NANA shareholders as well. They understand how important caribou are because many of these same drivers harvest them for their subsistence food as well.

Belugas have always been an important and cherished food source for our people. In recognition of the importance of beluga, Kivalina subsistence committee members advise when the spring hunt is over. Barge loading cannot start until the subsistence committee gives its OK.

The Inupiat of our region are blessed to live where there is a wonderful variety of traditional foods. We rely on the bearded seal, walrus, beluga, bowhead whale, fish, waterfowl, berries and greens. All scientific studies indicate it is safe to continue to harvest these foods.

As a child in Deering, I was raised on the bounty of the land. But things are changing throughout rural Alaska. My generation and those after mine are consuming larger quantities of processed and store-bought food. This decline in subsistence food consumption and corollary increase in non-Western food consumption is well documented in rural Alaska and results in increased instances of diabetes, high blood pressure and other health issues. These are serious issues and they must be addressed. However, it is not appropriate to suggest the decline in subsistence harvest and consumption is due to the Red Dog Mine.

At NANA we open ourselves to discussions about Red Dog Mine, about our region and about our people. It is part of our culture to make decisions with the input of, and to the benefit of, the group. We will continue to improve the communication and cooperation between the subsistence committee and the residents of the NANA region.


Marie Greene is president and CEO of NANA Regional Corporation.

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