Mining convention gets a fishy flavor

Elizabeth Bluemink

Notes from this week's Alaska Miners Association convention in Anchorage:


Rocks and minerals shared the glory with salmon and trout at the convention that ended Friday.

For the first time, the Alaska Miners Association decided to make fisheries the theme of its week-long annual meeting.

On Monday and Tuesday, roughly 50 people sat through two days of lectures on topics ranging from the economic and cultural value of the state's fisheries to what goes wrong for fish when they ingest toxic metals.

During a session on Monday, for example, a salmon ecologist showed a video of a salmon in a tank that lost its sense of smell when small amounts of copper were added to the water.

The next day, another ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey explained how researchers are now taking those copper-toxicity tests out of the lab and into actual salmon streams.

The point of the lectures and the overall theme of the convention was to increase dialog between mining and fishery professionals, said organizer Steve Grabacki, an Anchorage fish biologist and industry consultant.

To that end, the United Fishermen of Alaska, a coalition of commercial fishing groups in the state, sent several of its board members and staff to the final day of the conference on Friday. They were introduced to the full audience during lunch.

One of the board members, Paul Shadura, a setnet fisherman who heads the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, said one purpose for attending was to learn more about the Chuitna coal strip-mine project on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Some fishermen and Beluga area residents oppose the Chuitna project, but Shadura said his group is reserving judgment on it for now and a big reason is the loss of employment in the region.

"It's just hard to see the deterioration," he said, citing the closure of the Agrium fertilizer plant and loss of industrial jobs in the Kenai area.


The companies exploring some of the state's massive hardrock prospects -- Pebble and Donlin Creek -- didn't share any of their plans at the convention.

But a couple of Alaska's major mines offered some big news:

• The Kensington gold mine near Juneau opened in June. The company is selling half of its gold to a Chinese smelting company and the rest to a European firm.

• In August, the Red Dog zinc and lead mine near Kotzebue began mining from a new ore deposit that sits next to the mine's original open pit. The mine put its first shipment of zinc concentrate from the new deposit onto a Chukchi Sea barge on Sept. 15.

Red Dog officials expect the new deposit, called Aqqaluk, will extend the mine's life for another 20 years. Also, at least one more ore deposit is buried nearby that could be developed someday, a company official said.


A big piece of news that miners celebrated this week at the convention was a federal appeals court decision that upheld federal regulators' decision to transfer their authority over wastewater pollution discharges in Alaska to state regulators.

The mining association was a major supporter of the transfer of authority, which began in stages in 2008. The state gained control over wastewater discharges at mines this week.

But some environmental groups and Native organizations had appealed to the federal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the federal decision. These groups said they are worried that the state's oversight will be too lax.

The 9th Circuit upheld the transfer of the wastewater permit program on Thursday.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at or call 257-4317.