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Community Perspective

Potential mining site will change Ester

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We, the elected board of the Ester Community Association, are writing to represent the majority of the Ester community who are opposed to leasing Ester Dome lands to Felix Gold/Millrock for significant mineral exploration including the right to mine, extract and remove gold ore from our backyards.

It is important to note that the Ester Community Association is not anti-mining as a principle. We recognize that Ester exists because of historic mining, and the community currently co-exists with multiple smaller mining operations in the immediate vicinity. Also, there is no opposition to the mission of the Mental Health Trust, or lack of recognition of severe mental health needs in our community and across the state.

However, in the agreement with Felix Gold, the Mental Health Trust declared that the “highest and best use” of the Ester Dome land is gold mining, but noted that resource values include residential and recreational. We represent the thousands of Alaskans who see far greater benefit to those residential and recreational values, and suggest that areas not so critical — or close — to residents instead be considered for gold exploration.

We are a tight, residential community, and actively enjoy access to multiple recreational activities, hunting and trapping on the very land being opened for mining development. We strongly believe that the proposed leasing of land on Ester Dome for mining is not in the best interest of the mental, physical or emotional health of our community, for the following reasons:

• Loss of access to a heavily used recreational trail system, including the Equinox Marathon, Dunbar and Fireplug trails, as well as dozens of offshoots and connectors that make Ester Dome one of the premiere recreational sites in the Interior for hiking, running, mountain biking, dirt biking, four-wheeling, skiing and snowmachining;

• Destruction of habitat in a premiere environment for hunting, gathering (e.g. berry picking) and trapping;

• Impacts to four residential areas immediately adjacent to the proposed lease — Ester Dome, Ester Lump, Henderson Road and Murphy Dome — by ongoing mining activity resulting in 24-hour noise pollution, including from blasting, and heavy equipment; heavy traffic impacting roads and adding danger to travel in the area; pollution; increased levels of dust that can impact local residents with respiratory illnesses and diseases, such as asthma; groundwater impacts; arsenic and other heavy metals;

• Reduction of property values in all four areas;

• The conversion of one of the most distinctive hills and striking landscapes in the Fairbanks area into a mine site, thus impacting views for tourists and residents throughout Fairbanks.

What is worse, most of us would have been unaware of this proposed development had it not been for a journalist reporting on the contract. There was no public announcement beyond a legal notice in the paper, no public hearings, no opportunity to ask questions, discuss alternatives or express concerns.

A large, foreign company could severely impact our property values, mental and physical health, and our way of life, and all we have is an email address for voicing our concerns.

We strongly oppose the agreement made between the Mental Health Trust and Felix Gold and wish to remind them that exercise and enjoying nature are the healthiest activities our community can share, and is the only free way people can reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood and also improve self-esteem and cognitive function. That, we believe, is still the “highest and best use” of our beloved Ester Dome.

Monique Musick is president of the Ester Community Association Board of Directors.

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