The title of this posting captures the mood of the Alaska Miners Association meeting, which begun today in Juneau. Many talks picked up the theme of: Jobs Now. Mining Jobs Now. Mining Jobs in Alaska Now.
Frank Bergstrom talked about reopening the AJ mine which is owned by the City and Borough of Juneau. That is correct, the city and surrounding areas actually owns the old AJ mine which is within walking distance of the city center. The AJ mine started way back in the late 1890s. The adits and chambers are still open and it is believed the mine could be reopened and worked for a profit. The city is studying the possibility of calling for proposals from the mining industry to reopen the mine—and thereby providing jobs.
As was pointed out in the talk, some four thousand people in Juneau work for government, and the major revenue source, the oil industry, is declining. The question is obvious: where will money and jobs come from as the oil industry, its revenue, the taxes, and the need for so many government employees declines? One answer is mining, specifically the reopening of the old AJ mine.
It is proposed that all the workings, that would normally be at the surface of the average mine, be underground in the old workings. The old chambers are so large and so stable, that the filter-pressed tailings could be placed underground in the old workings. That would make this the most environmentally friendly mine ever, plus it would be in the center of a state capital. Unique. We must all watch this development with great interest.
At lunch, Dennis Wheeler, CEO of Coeur dAlene Mines Corporation talked about the opening of the Kensington Mine after years of permit and legal delays. He noted that the mine bring over 200 direct jobs and probably as many indirect jobs to Juneau. And he pleaded for an expedited mine approval process so that Alaska may move to provide the many new jobs that are required. New jobs are required to deal with current unemployment, and the specter of educated Alaskan kids leaving the state. The only sad part of the start of this mine was the employment it provided to lawyers fighting the permitting process. Well-paid jobs, but still, one must wonder.
In the afternoon Mali Abrahamson of the State of Alaska Department of Labor & WOrkforce Development gave a fact-filled talk about mining job and mining wages in Alaska. She has promised to send me a copy of her talk so that I can share the information with you. For now we note only that the average mining income in Alaska is $91,000 per year as compared to the state average income of $46,000 a year. Thus mining average earnings are the second highest in the state; oil and gas are first at an astounding $167,100 a year.
There are some 2,300 people directly employed in the Alaskan mining industry. This represents an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2000. Half the jobs are in urban areas; half are in rural areas of the state. The thing that surprised me was just how small a part of the state’s economy mining is: a mere one to two percent. Still they were out demonstrating against the Pebble Mine even as we sat in the conference hall.
Finally today, Representative Cathy Munoz spoke of activities going on in the legislature relevant to mining. I could not follow the details as the acronyms and bill numbers and details, obviously familiar to those gathered in the hall, were new and unfamiliar to me. The end conclusion I make is that mining is being fairly treated, and some fifteen to twenty new government jobs are being created to enable the state to hire that many new staff to speed up the process of review of mining permit applications.
And that is a one-conference-day’s worth of news on jobs in the mining industry in Alaska. If you want to work in mining up here, you will have to seek for the job, be prepared to move, learn to love the high hills and mountains, the deep snow, the ambivalence of the public, and settle down to an expensive state with a good salary.