Constantine Mineral Resources, a Canadian-based exploratory company, is pursuing the development of a large-scale copper/zinc mine in the upper Chilkat Valley, near the town of Haines, in northern Southeast Alaska. No one can say with certainty what impacts will be observed should the project be developed, however, research and observations from similar circumstances in other communities indicate that some or all of the following impacts are likely:
1. The extraction and processing of minerals will employ workers at above average wages and could provide a flow of revenue to the local government, however, based upon relevant comparisons, the often-presumed ripple effect on other segments of the economy is typically unrealized.
2. Large scale mining projects sited in rural, relatively isolated communities are statistically correlated with long-term out-migration, high poverty and unemployment rates, poorer health and lower education attainment.
3. Market volatility for mineral commodities often leads to significant fluctuations in employment and payroll levels, i.e., a “flickering” economy and ultimately a “boom-bust economy”, which often cautions communities against investing in the social infrastructure and prevention plans needed to mitigate the influx of a large, transient workforce.
4. Transient mine employees, typically young, single, males, employed in block shifts (two weeks on, two weeks off), are likely to be disruptive to the broader social community and are often associated with:
Increased alcohol and substance abuse, violence, morbidity, and mortality;
Increased violent crime including physical and sexual assault;
Increased pressure on law enforcement agencies;
Increased presence of convicted felons including drug dealers and registered sex offenders;
Undermining of Indigenous peoples’ and other residents’ ways of life and traditions; and
Increased conflict among residents along income, employment, and racial lines as the community fragments under the pressure of substantial transience among workers and residents.
There is considerable variation in the mineral extraction industry, the geography and demography of the areas that host mining activities, and the public policy that local, state, and federal governments adopt to minimize the public costs that mineral extraction might otherwise impose on nearby communities. Therefore, it is vital that local communities be fully informed about the mix of potential costs and benefits from such development, rather than focusing on a benefits-only-based “promise of mining.”