February 20, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 7

Trust approves mining exploration

After receiving nearly two dozen comments from Haines residents and organizations, a state agency has decided to open nearly 100,000 acres of land about 30 miles northwest of Haines to potential mineral exploration, development and production.

Mental Health Trust Land Office executive director Marcie Menefee upheld the decision to lease the land for mineral exploration following a 30-day public comment period that yielded 20 responses, including one from the Haines Borough.

According to the affirmed, best-interest decision issued Feb. 13, the majority of the comments “expressed concern over potential adverse effects to water, fish and wildlife.” Few comments spoke to whether leasing the land would be in the best interest of the trust and its beneficiaries, as had been specified.

The proposed lease and potential mining that could come from it would jeopardize the long-term sustainability of Alaska’s wild fish stocks, one commentor wrote. Another claimed chemical pollution, acid drainage and “community-wide stress” would be the only possible outcome to leasing of the land.

Mike Franger, the trust’s senior resource manager, said many of the environmental concerns are not within the purview of the trust and will be taken up by the relevant agencies if a mine ever comes to fruition.

“The comments generally dealt with issues that will be addressed at some point during the permitting process. We’re not regulators here; we’re just the land owners,” Franger said.

One commentor also claimed there are anadramous fish streams on the lease block, but the trust responded in the decision that none of the streams in the block are catalogued as anadramous in the Department of Fish and Game’s database.

The Haines Chamber of Commerce submitted a comment encouraging the lease offering.

The borough also submitted a letter, written by planning and zoning technician Tracy Cui, stating the borough believed the trust’s decision to lease the land should be altered. However, the assembly voted last week to retract the letter because it hadn’t come before the body for approval prior to being sent.   

Franger said he doesn’t know yet if anyone is interested in bidding to lease the land, though he spoke with several company representatives at the recent Mineral Exploration Roundup conference in Vancouver.

“We’ll also contact companies who are active in the state who might have an interest in it,” Franger said.

He said the lease is for lode (hard-rock) mining. Requests for placer-mining use will be addressed on an individual basis, he said, and are not available for this block of land.

Lease applications are due by March 31, when they will be reviewed by the trust.

Annual rental of the land begins at $25,000 per year for the first lease term (three years) and $40,000 per year in the second term. There is also a royalty clause for any production that might occur, and the lessee would be required to spend at least $75,000 a year on exploration of the property.

The lease block, almost entirely on the south side of the highway, surrounds Constantine Metal Resources’ Palmer Project.