Mining: Doing it Right the First Time

Published September 1, 2004

Governor Frank Murkowski’s blueprint for a prosperous Alaska has a solid foundation of resource, energy, and economic development and “doing it right the first time.” Hiring Alaskans is our number one priority because every good job also means good schools and communities for Alaska families.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency endorsed the governor’s blueprint when it recently issued the draft Clean Water Act permit for Coeur Alaska’s Kensington gold mine north of Juneau.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development has been working with Coeur for many months to recruit, train, and fill mine jobs with resident Alaskans. The company is on record supporting maximum Alaska hire.

Coeur expects to employ 500 workers, 300 in initial construction and 200 in operations. The mine will also support an estimated 180 indirect jobs. Payroll and benefits will boost the regional economy by $16 million.

The Kensington mine is an excellent example of doing it right the first time. And it is important to note that the Coeur Alaska project is far from alone.

I met recently with senior executives of Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd., developer of the Pebble Gold and Copper Project near Iliamna. The “Pebble” is the largest known gold deposit and second-largest copper deposit in North America.

Northern Dynasty is hiring 114 workers for full-time jobs during the first year of construction at the Pebble Project. And 86 of those workers–more than 75 percent–are resident Alaskans.

The developer plans to employ more than 1,000 workers over the Pebble mine production life of 20 years or more. And jobs in the mine will be matched by an equal number of indirect jobs, further expanding payrolls and benefits.

Northern Dynasty forecasts development costs for the Pebble project at up to $1 billion with more than $15 million budgeted for mapping and environmental work in 2004. Short-term and long-term, that’s doing it right the first time.

We always emphasize Governor Murkowski’s Alaska hire initiative when my department discusses industry requirements for workers. The initiative encourages employers with 20 or more workers to ultimately achieve a 90 percent or greater resident workforce.

Today, more than 1,100 companies and organizations have met or exceeded the governor’s Alaska hire goal.

I have worked with mining management and labor for many years. Mining was a cornerstone of development in Alaska long before statehood or territorial days.

Politics and some attitudes have not always understood or been kind to the industry. However, that mindset is improving with the Kensington, Pebble, and future mine projects committed to “doing it right the first time.”

Governor Murkowski’s blueprint for resource development encourages that positive attitude with its commitment to a prosperous economy and respect for public policy decisions supported by sound science.

Alaska’s mining industry is on the threshold of new prosperity. In months we will have more Alaska miners employed and punching time clocks including those taking home paychecks from the Kensington mine and the Pebble project.

Their ranks and those of prosperous, working families will also grow by 350 workers at the Pogo gold mine near Delta. Eighty-five percent of the Pogo workforce will be resident Alaskans.

The Pogo mine made headlines when construction workers had to be abruptly laid off when an environmental organization filed a last-minute lawsuit that shut down the mine.

Governor Murkowski quickly called together Pogo managers, environmental group leaders, and government officials. They negotiated almost around the clock at the Fairbanks governor’s office.

In less than 24 hours, the governor’s team helped forge an agreement that sent construction crews back to work and got the Pogo project headed back to being on schedule.

Further north and west, a workforce of 412 is earning paychecks at the Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue. Some 399 workers are on the job at the Fort Knox and True North mines near Fairbanks.

Near Healy, 81 workers are punching the clock at the Usibelli Coal Mine and a crew of 260 is employed at the Greens Creek mine near Juneau.

Another 300 miners are employed and on the job at additional mines in the state including the Donlin Creek prospect in Southwest Alaska.

Our new generation of skilled mining engineers and workers is producing an impressive array of rare and essential minerals and earning good paychecks for families in Alaska.

Doing it right the first time is our goal. Hire Alaskans: It’s good for business.

Greg O’Claray is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.