Mining activity a mix of costs and benefits, independent report says

A group of Haines residents commissioned an independent report on the potential socio-economic impacts of a mining operation near Haines. The report cautions that mining activity in small towns can have serious costs attached to the benefits.

Deb Marshall is the spokeswoman for nearly a dozen Haines residents informally calling themselves the Friends of the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers.

“Some of the nonprofits have done a good job of showing the environmental impacts of the possible acid drainage impacting the salmon population. But what we’re not talking about is the socio economic impact of a of a boom and bust economy,” she said.

She said the group wanted a socio-economic assessment from experts without an interest in the proposed mine.

They commissioned a report from a small economic consulting firm in Montana whose client list includes the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service.

“Metal mining is often offered as a free lunch,” said Dr. Thomas Powers, an emeritus economics professor from the University of Montana Economics. “The promise of mining is spectacularly high paid jobs and significant revenues to government.”

But he says those benefits come at a significant cost. His report cautions that the ripple effect of high wage jobs doesn’t typically pan out and that workers employed in block shifts are often associated with increased alcohol and substance abuse, among other ill-effects.

Powers says there’s broad agreement among economists that mines leave communities worse off economically. That’s despite the value extracted from mines and the high wages they pay.

“The interesting thing is that when one looks at areas, especially small town rural areas, that had substantial mining development, you don’t find prosperous communities,” he said.

He says Appalachia is an example. It’s been a premier coal mining zone in the U.S. for over a century. It’s also been a symbol of persistent poverty, poor health and high unemployment.

His findings are a contrast to the promises of Constantine Metal Resources, the company in advanced stages of mineral exploration for a large scale zinc-copper-silver-barite mine at the Palmer Project near Haines.

“Social studies are a very important part of the mineral exploration and development process,” said Liz Cornejo, Constantine’s Vice President of External and Community Affairs. “We can learn from other studies and communities, but we also need to conduct our own local studies that include project- and community-specific information.”

Cornejo says Constantine plans to conduct studies that will help avoid or minimize potential negative impacts of mining activity now that they have released their preliminary economic assessment, or PEA. The independent report did not use information from the PEA.

The Friends of the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers say they hope the report will be a conversation starter for the community.

Copies of the report will be available in the Haines library.