first_imgDry stacked tailings facility at Greens Creek Mine. (Photo courtesy Hecla Mining Company)Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation is working on new guidelines for Hawk Inlet — the location of Hecla’s Greens Creek Mine.Listen Now Last spring, an environmental advocacy group found elevated levels of mercury in a seal harvested near the inlet. That sent off alarm bells for a nearby village, which is dependent on subsistence foods.There was barely an empty seat in the small, rectangular conference room in DEC offices. Staff repeatedly reminded the crowd this wasn’t a hearing. It was a chance for the agency to share a report it collected on Hawk Inlet.Still, many in the crowd gave passionate testimony, including Albert Howard — Angoon’s mayor and tribal president.“It’s in the back of our minds every day now until we actually get answers to what’s happening,” Howard said. “And it’s even more so now because there wasn’t any salmon to speak of for us to fall back on.”Howard sent a letter to the state earlier this year asking for help. But he doesn’t feel like his concerns were heard. And Howard said that the new guidelines don’t do enough.He said people in the village are still scared to harvest seal. And Green Creek mine hasn’t been held responsible for its past violations.The village of Angoon is the home to about 400 people. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau)In 1989, the company spilled an unknown amount of ore into the inlet and went through the steps to clean it up. But Howard thinks “the problem’s still there.”Before the Friends of Admiralty Island discovered high levels of mercury in the seal, Hawk Inlet was already listed as an impaired water-body. That’s prompted the state to put together a report to submit to the federal government.The report on Hawk Inlet details recent and past monitoring tests — including information gathered by the Friends of Admiralty Island.Gretchen Pikul, an environmental program specialist at DEC, said when the agency crunched all the numbers, it found the inlet to be healthy overall, with a couple of sites that should be monitored more closely.“This plan doesn’t clean up water but actions do,” Pikul said.One of the plan’s recommendations is to cast a wider net when it comes to monitoring the area. Another is to post warning signs near the inlet not to gather food near the mine’s discharge area.But these are suggestions, not requirements. The state can work with the Greens Creek mine to implement the changes when the company’s permit is up for review in about four years. But it can’t force the mine to change anything now.Meanwhile, the report didn’t identify how the seal could have had such high levels of mercury. Michelle Hale, the director of DEC, said the mercury could have come from somewhere else.“It could be air deposition from China,” Hale said. “Because we know that happens in some places. We don’t know that source right now.”But for Albert Howard, that answer wasn’t satisfying. He still has questions about the historic ore spill. And questions about how today’s monitoring is done.“I don’t agree with them. Because there’s no checks and balances there,” Howard said. “There’s no, ‘well if you spill ore, this is what’s gonna happen.’ There’s nothing there. There’s no mechanism to prevent them from irreparable harm.”The Department of Environmental Conservation is taking public comment on the report until Nov. 14.last_img

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