Record crowd expected at miners convention

Major issues loom ahead
Photo/Michael Dinneen/For the Journal

The annual Alaska Miners Association convention will set another attendance record this year with about 1,000 signed up to attend so far, AMA Executive Director Deantha Crockett said.

It is also marks the 75th anniversary of the AMA, making it one of the state’s oldest trade and professional organizations. The AMA was organized in 1939 to give the mining industry, then one of the territory’s two industries (the other being fishing) a way to present a united front in dealing with new land policies being formed in Washington, D.C.

Not much has changed, Crockett said.

The Alaska statehood movement, which even then was gaining strength, was also an issue the mining industry wanted to be involved in.

This year, however, the convention has also moved to a new venue and larger spaces at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, having outgrown the capacity of the downtown Sheraton, its location in previous years. The event will take place from Nov. 3 to Nov. 9.

Attendance has been steadily climbing at AMA’s annual gatherings. There were 700 last year, setting a record then, and 500 to 600 in previous years, Crockett said.

These aren’t the best times for the minerals industry worldwide but there’s continued interest in Alaska because of the state’s huge natural resource endowment, and a heavy turnout at the AMA convention signals that.

It also indicates concerns over forces adversely affecting mining, such as government policy changes and environmental initiatives, and the miners’ annual conference is seen as a good way to hear directly from top agency officials, Crockett said.

This year, she said, mining industry leaders from Nevada and Colorado will make presentations on policy problems in their state. Similar issues may crop up in Alaska.

One session that will be no doubt well-attended will be luncheon sponsored by the miners and other business groups on Nov. 5, in which Ralph Samuels, a former legislator and House majority leader, will give his analysis of state election results following the general election Nov. 4, with the victorious statewide candidates invited to attend.

Phillip Baker, CEO of Hecla Mining Co., will speak at the Thursday luncheon. Hecla is owner and operator of the Greens Creek Mine near Juneau.

Crockett said there will be keen interest in learning about problems with mine tailings dam elsewhere as these will influence Alaska regulators’ responses to proposals for tailings facilities on new projects here.

On that topic, British Columbia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, will give a presentation on his government’s response to the Mount Polley tailings facility failure. That is scheduled for Nov. 5 at 3 p.m.

Crockett said Bennett will discuss the investigation now underway on the failure, why it was ordered and what is being studied.

“People here are interested in what we can learn from this. There are a lot of lessons,” she said.

Earlier on Nov. 5, AMA will also have a special panel session on tailings dam safety, moderated by Bob Loeffler, a veteran minerals consultant. That is scheduled for 8 a.m. Nov. 5.

There will be a panel on national issues affecting mining, a hot topic with the pending preemption effort of mining in the Bristol Bay region by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hal Quinn, CEO of the National Mining Association, will give an update on EPA issues including the pending rules on power plant emissions, an issue of keen concern to the coal industry.

Tom Collier, CEO of Pebble Partnership, will give the latest on EPA’s efforts on a Clean Water Act Section 404c preemption at Pebble as well as his company’s litigation against the agency on the issue.

Crockett said a panel on ballot initiatives, from the Alaska perspective as well as experience in others states, will be of keen interest given the recent ballot propositions here, including Ballot Measure 4 that intends to require legislative approval for any large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay area.

Tim Crowley, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association, will discuss a ballot measure in Nevada dealing with state mineral taxation. The proposal is to clear away existing Nevada statutes on minerals taxes as a preliminary step toward enacting a new tax code, which the mining industry fears will be more onerous.

Stuart Sanderson, executive director of the Colorado Mining Association, will discuss the state’s implementation of its new marijuana measure (a similar law could be approved for Alaska under Ballot Measure 2) and the anti-“fracking” initiative in that state. Although this deals with oil and gas and the practice of hydraulic fracturing, the ripple effects could eventually be felt by the mining industry.

This panel is set for Thursday, Nov. 6, at 10 a.m.

Thursday afternoon, Nov. 6, there will be discussions of new technologies, including new transportation concepts such as dirigibles and unmanned aerial vehicles. Robert Boyd, of Lockheed Martin, will discuss his company’s work on dirigibles, which are of interest to the mining industry as a possible vehicle for heavy-lift to and from remote, roadless sites.

This is set for 3 p.m.

A review of AMA’s 75-year history, which is really the story of the mining industry, is scheduled for Friday morning, Nov. 7. People who were active in important events in recent years, like the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 and the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act of 1980, will reflect on those events, which are still affecting the industry today.

Chuck Hawley and Paul Glavinovich, two veteran geologists who were active in those issues, will talk, along with J.P. Tangen on federal law changes; Tom Bundtzen of Fairbanks; former AMA director Steve Borell, and Duane Gibson, a Washington D.C. lobbyist who represents mining interests including the AMA.

11/18/2016 - 9:13am