A $2.5 million upgrade of the planned Wells Bridge replacement and a certain amount of public support may be necessary for mines in the western Yukon Territory to use Haines as an ore transshipment site, local leaders heard at a “Minerals, Natural Gas and Transportation Summit” last week.
About 20 officials, including ones from mine firms and from Alaska and Yukon government agencies involved in mining, transportation and development, attended the meeting, along with owners of port property in Haines.
The meeting was organized by the private Haines Port Development Council.
Participants hailed the loosely organized roundtable for its open discussion of development issues. The wide-ranging talks included moving Canadian ore by railroad.
State Department of Transportation planner Andy Hughes said beefing up the bridge at Wells for large mine trucks was possible but his agency would have to seek the additional $2.5 million soon. Construction of a new bridge is set for 2014.
“My department can respond to needs for hauling ore down the Haines Highway if we have a couple years’ lead time,” Hughes said.
Terry Hayden, Acting Deputy Minister of Economic Development for the Yukon, reported demand from Pacific Rim nations is driving mineral development in the territory, including three operating mines, six in various stages of permitting and 10 in advanced exploration.
Prophecy Platinum, which holds the Wellgreen nickel and platinum deposit near Burwash Landing, Y.T., has been identified by Haines Borough officials as the most likely customer of a port facility here.
Although operation of a mine there isn’t expected before 2018, Prophecy is currently evaluating port options. Engineer Ron Monk, who’s writing a transportation study due out in a few weeks, spoke at the meeting, as did project manager Neil Froc.
Monk said Prophecy is “talking in the order for about 10 trucks a day” coming through Haines with ore. Larger trucks are less expensive to run and the company would be interested in the largest allowed by the state, he said.
Monk said Haines is a shorter distance than Skagway and “has better coffee” but port facilities here “can’t handle bulk materials in a very effective way” due to the absence of a terminal building, he told the group.
The Yukon’s Hayden and Bruce Carr of the Alaska Railroad Corporation emphasized the importance of public support for the project, and laid responsibility for that on local government.
Prophecy’s Froc reinforced those comments. “It’s important for us for our project to have community support. If it doesn’t, that’s a huge hurdle,” he said.
Carr and Jim Strandberg, finance officer for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, said local officials should take a decades-long view of port potential.
“The reality is that mines will come and go,” Strandberg said. “For a town looking for that kind of development, long-term (local) development is necessary and patience is required.”
Port development for a single mine might spur other mines or shippers to look favorably at Haines in the future, he said.
“(Haines) doesn’t need a shiny, new port,” said Jesse Duke, president of a consulting firm working with the Casino mine prospect. Casino’s developers recently considered Haines as a transshipment port.
“You need it planned out well enough to tell a potential user, ‘Here’s our plan. Here’s the cost numbers. Here’s the money we’ve got, and here’s the money you have to provide, so developers can tell financiers, ‘You don’t have to worry about the port.’ You have to be able to say who’s going to do what and what the costs are going to be,” Duke said.
In an interview this week, borough manager Mark Earnest said potential benefits from ore shipments include increased borough port revenues (or increased property tax revenues from a private port), fuel purchases by trucks, and a spurring of improvements to the Haines Highway.
He said the borough would continue to track development of deposits while planning for upgrades like planned improvements to the Lutak Dock.
The meeting was a good opportunity for diverse parties to gather and all hear the same message, Earnest said, and for starting a dialogue in the community.
“It was good to start the discourse and dialogue in the community so people can start thinking, ‘What does all this mean?’” We need to be making a decision in the community about the future and is this something we want to be involved in. That conversation will occur. I see our job is in trying to get the information.”