Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/05/2003 03:30 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 79-EXTEND ALASKA MINERALS COMMISSION SENATOR BEN STEVENS, sponsor of SB 79, told members this measure would extend the Alaska Minerals Commission to 2014. It is currently set to expire February 1, 2004. The Alaska Minerals Commission was established in 1986 to make recommendations to the governor and legislature on ways to mitigate constraints on development of mineral resources in Alaska. The commission is comprised of six appointees by the governor and three appointees each by the Senate President and House Speaker. He believes the commission has done an excellent job over the last 16 years. He highlighted some of the commission's recommendations that have been adopted: · Passage of the Minerals Policy Act. · Funding for the airborne geophysical surveys. · Assisting in the creation of a task force for RS2477 trail inventory. · Assertion of RS2477 rights-of-way. · Legislative Resolution 31 passed in opposition of the creation of international parks, world heritage sites, and marine biosphere reserves in Western Alaska. · Extending terms of permits when legal impediments prevent use. SENATOR BEN STEVENS stated the Alaska Minerals Commission has been working well so he believes the Legislature should allow it to do its good work. He pointed out the recommendations in the executive summary of the Report of the 2003 Alaska Minerals Commission are valuable. He encouraged committee members to pass SB 79 on. CHAIR OGAN took public testimony. MR. LANCE MILLER, Executive Director of the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC), told members that prior to his current position, he was the projects manager with Placer Dome and he worked as chief geologist with Echo Bay [Mining] on the A-J project for nine years. He said SB 79 will extend the commission for a longer period of time than has been done previously. He noted that the minerals industry is a billion dollar industry - the third largest in the state. Mining companies are committing their capital to Alaska over the course of 10 to 20 years, just to get a project going. Mines take at least ten years to build. He believes if the Commission is in existence for at least ten years running, that will send a good message to the industry. He summarized that if companies are willing to commit risk capital for that time frame in the hope of getting a mine going, a ten year extension of the commission will show good will toward a working partnership with industry. CHAIR OGAN asked the length of the previous extension. MR. MILLER said it was five years. MR. NEIL MacKINNON, Vice Chair of the Alaska Minerals Commission and President of Hyak Mining Company, a small Juneau-based exploration company, told members he has been on the commission through several five-year extensions and five years passes very quickly. He said that when it comes time to write the Alaska Minerals Commission report, members do a vast amount of work that is not accounted for in the budget: they do the work to get it done. MR. MacKINNON told members the Alaska Minerals Commission is made up of a diverse group of individuals, from placer miners to representatives of companies such as Cominco. Members bring a vast array of views therefore the Commission takes an overarching view of the problems facing the mining industry. The commission also tries to look ahead for potential problems. One example is essential fish habitat, which the commission picked up on its "radar screen" several years ago. It is a brewing problem that has not come to the forefront yet. SENATOR DYSON asked Mr. MacKinnon to clarify what "essential fish habitat" means to the mining industry. MR. MacKINNON said that the Stevens-Magnuson Act contains a few lines that give the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) power over what it deems to be essential fish habitat. He said when the act was written, he thinks it was meant to address ground fish and bottom draggers. While the tendency of bureaucracies is to expand power as far as possible, he sees NMFS exercising that authority over creeks and any water body. He noted that numerous groups are working on the issue, including U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and the Resource Development Council. He repeated that the NMFS policy has not yet been fully expanded so that keeping the issue on the radar screen may be enough to control the problem. SENATOR DYSON asked: So, when you say 'essential fish habitat' you're talking about the regulatory problems that come from those lines being in the National Marine Fisheries. And when you talk about wetlands problems, you're talking about the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers and others over wetlands and how that impact might - you're not just talking about the wetlands. MR. MacKINNON stated the Alaska Minerals Commission sees this as a wetlands problem coming from another angle - the National Marine Fisheries Service, based on the 'essential fish habitat' definition, which is a rough definition. SENATOR LINCOLN noted this will be the fourth extension of the Alaska Minerals Commission, which she supports. She pointed out SB 79 does not address the length of the terms of commission members and asked if members are appointed for a five-year term. MR. MacKINNON said members serve at the pleasure of the appointee. He noted the statute is not clear about term limits. SENATOR LINCOLN suggested that the term be clearly defined so that the people who are serving understand how long they will be in office. She noted that serving for five-years may seem like a lifetime to some people while that amount of time passes quickly for others. She then asked why, if the five-year extensions have posed no problem, the commission believes a ten-year extension will be more beneficial. MR. MacKINNON replied: Well, maybe it's just a perspective that five years comes real fast. That was part of the comment that it's been over and over so let's just put ten years and go for ten because it gives a little more permanence to it and, like I say, five years isn't that long. CHAIR OGAN pointed out the statute says that members serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority and members must have at least five years experience in various aspects of mineral industries in the state. SENATOR LINCOLN asked if the commission has ever recommended terms for members to the legislature. MR. MacKINNON said that he was appointed by the Senate President, and if the Senate President chooses to appoint someone else, that is his choice. He said that one commission member brought up this discussion thinking that the commission should get some "fresh blood." However, in the history of the commission, there has been enough turnover from people leaving to take other positions or for other reasons. As an example, Tom Irwin will no longer serve on the commission as he has taken the position as the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. CHAIR OGAN asked how often the Alaska Minerals Commission meets. MR. MacKINNON said it meets three times per year. Its report to the legislature is due in December. CHAIR OGAN asked Mr. MacKinnon if he feels the report gets attention. MR. MacKINNON said that depends on the make-up of the legislature, but it has during the last few years. SENATOR LINCOLN said she is pleased to see that two women serve on the 11 member commission but she would like to see that number expanded. MR. MacKINNON said that Irene Anderson is the Chair and that the women "probably do most of the heavy lifting." SENATOR ELTON said he supports the Alaska Minerals Commission and feels it is a model that is being looked at for other economic sector proposals in Alaska. MS. IRENE ANDERSON, Chair, Alaska Minerals Commission, maintained that a ten-year extension will save a lot of people time, such as legislators and staff. She agrees with Mr. MacKinnon that members come and go and that the group is very diverse. She indicated that ten years is not a long time period in the mining industry, especially when trying to build infrastructure in rural Alaska. CHAIR OGAN asked Ms. Anderson to describe her background. MS. ANDERSON said she comes from a family of placer miners in the Nome area. Her husband is originally from McGrath. She said her grandfather began mining in Nome in 1905. Ms. Frankie Pillifant, staff to the Alaska Minerals Commission, was available to answer questions, however there were none. SENATOR BEN STEVENS moved SB 79 from committee with individual recommendations and its attached fiscal note. CHAIR OGAN announced that without objection, SB 79 would move from committee.