Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/05/2003 03:30 PM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                                 
   · 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                                                                  
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                                                               
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                                                               
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.                                                                                                                 

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