ALASKA’S CHANGING OF THE GUARD: THE DUST FINALLY SETTLES
by Kathryn G. Arlen
For over twenty years Executive Director Steve Borell deftly directed the Alaska Miners Association’s (AMA) statewide membership, only recently making that final decision to hang up his leadership hardhat. After a lengthy nationwide search, AMA’s Board of Directors originally hired Fred Parady from Wyoming who unexpectedly resigned for personal reasons after only three months. That must have set an uneasy stage: now what?
Enter Deantha Crockett, only 29 years old, but with very specific, directed experience serving seven years as Projects Coordinator with the Anchorage-based Resource Development Council (RDC), involvement with AMA’s state oversight committee, and, equally to the point, a lifelong Alaskan.
Addressing my first question about the unforeseen outcome from AMA’s extensive recruiting effort, Corbett responded: “They did spend months on this search…and I think they saw they could bring in someone else with another set of ‘extenuating circumstances’ and then, if it’s not the right fit we’re out another executive director, so I think they decided to look locally.”
Corbett added, “And with my concentration I was in charge of RDC mining and tourism issues,” Wanting to explore that topic [i.e., “What special contributions do you bring to this position?”] I asked: “Especially with tourism, that suggests perhaps you may be more aware of issues involving mining and the general public and can better communicate to the general population, hopefully gaining more support?”
“You’ve raised that absolutely perfectly,” Crockett emphasized. “That’s what I’ve heard people say, people who are familiar with both of my jobs. The Executive Committee, when discussing with the rest of the membership, stated that my strength was on communicating aspects of the mining industry to the legislature, the public, to the people who don’t quite understand. So it was more of a policy understanding.”
With an internal focus, Corbett plans to expand use of electronic media, hopefully reaching towards younger potential members, used to Facebook and Twitter: “What I think I can offer is bring this organization up to date, if you will, while still preserving the other forms of communication.”
Since officially assuming her responsibilities as of June 1, 2012, one of Corbett’s top challenges is addressing a proposed initiative governing Alaska’s coastal management, appearing as Ballot Measure 2 in the August 28th primary election. The Alaska State Legislature was unable to agree on extending the previous program when it ended last session, leaving Alaska’s 6,640 miles of general coastline vulnerable. (Alaska’s tidal shoreline, including islands, sounds, and bays totals over 47,000 miles—nationally number one, with Florida a distant second.)
Commenting on the proposed replacement plan, Corbett stressed: “It’s lacking any clear direction…there is much in there we cannot live with. For example, it asks for a 13 member board [representing each coastal district]...but doesn’t require them to have any sort of scientific background at all, such as biology, geology, eco-systems, etc. It’s very political; they are appointed, not elected.”
For selecting the members, Corbett continued, “It provides for three names to be put to the governor, and he has to pick one—the public has no say over this. It could go either way, someone who is absolutely anti-development or a ‘development at all costs’ type of individual, neither of which should be on the board that regulates natural resources. And we have a huge problem with that.”
On other major issues: first, the perennially frustrating problems associated with permitting. Corbett remarked, “I think Alaska is doing a fantastic job with improving its own permitting process. For the past few years they [the industry] have been doing a lot of outreach with the public to see what it can do with its own permitting system.” Can Alaska serve as an example for the rest of the nation? “It would be wonderful if they did, but I don’t see that happening. We really have a system that should be the envy of the rest of the nation. We are currently doing things that can set examples.”
“For instance,” Corbett continued, “Our administration here in the state has done a great job of showcasing Alaska’s legal action when Federal overreach is happening, to take legal action. Our Governor and Attorney General have both done a really good job of stepping up and saying, ‘We’re not going to let this happen. First of all, it’s not legal, and you can’t get away with this, so don’t try.’”
One existing frustration along these lines, a major state [and national] concern and interest, is the proposed Pebble Mine. “The Federal Government is coming in and assessing watershed, looking for authority on the project. It does have to get Federal permits to move forward, but it is on state land designated for mining, and they have not entered the [permitting] process yet. Still, Federal agencies like the EPA are coming in and trying to make pre-judgments on it. I don’t want to say that Pebble is moving too quickly or not quickly enough. I just think that it hasn’t started yet, and people are still trying to make judgments.”
Surfacing at the national level, on a positive note, is the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4402) aimed at “streamlining the approval process for permits to mine rare earth minerals” (Jack Caldwell’s post on “I Think Mining.”) Extraction of Rare Earth Metals (REM) is of particular interest to Alaska with Bokan Mountain in an exploration stage, and this state is “poised to be the world’s leader in REM exports,” Corbett commented in a June address to the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got some pretty amazing prospects here, [Bokan Mountain being just one] and since critical minerals go into everything we use, there’s always going to be a demand. We’ve got one of the few locations on the planet, China, of course, has a ‘ton’ of them, and our Congressional delegation recognizes that.”
With China’s economic growth currently slowing, including exports, “We have the chance to contribute to this mineral supply,” Corbett eagerly added, “since we currently import 100% of our critical minerals. Let’s focus concentration on how Alaska can contribute to REM needs.” Considering Alaska’s overall mineral resource status, Corbett emphatically concluded: “Our potential could go off the chart.”
Kathryn G. Arlen is a communication consultant, scientist, and freelance writer in Fairbanks, AK, and can be reached at email@example.com.