Constantine Metal Resources is proposing to expand its exploratory drill operations at the Palmer Project site, which would include construction of 2.5 miles of road, three bridges, culverts and permitting for 40 new drill sites.

Constantine has been working at the site 30 miles northwest of Haines since 2006, searching for copper, zinc, silver and gold deposits to determine if there are volumes enough to open a mine there.

The proposal for the road extension and other developments must be approved by the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land at the project site, said BLM field manager Dennis Teitzel.

BLM’s environmental review of Constantine’s proposal is a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act. It includes an internal BLM review, other agency reviews, as well as incorporation of public comments, which will be accepted through Jan. 8.

“It’s imperative that we have public input on the plan of operation and what the potential impacts to the resources are. That way we do get a robust and thorough document created in the end,” Teitzel said.

According to documents submitted to BLM, the expansion calls for the construction of two steel vehicle bridges and one timber-frame bridge. The steel bridges would cross Glacier Creek and an unnamed gully, and would measure about 60 feet and 40 feet, respectively. The small timber-frame bridge, about 20 feet, would cross a stream.

The 2.5 miles of unpaved road would extend from an existing road Constantine built in 2014, said Constantine’s vice president of exploration Darwin Green. The road follows the south side of Glacier Creek in the Porcupine mining district, and the extension would create switchbacks with rock fall berms up a hill to a staging area with temporary work trailers, storage containers and portable toilets.

Green said the road extension would bring crews “closer to the action, the core area of exploration,” instead of relying on helicopters. He also said it is important for safety in terms of being able to get people in and out quickly.

Since 2006, the company has drilled 77 holes to gain information about mineral deposits. In 2015, the company drilled 10 holes. The proposal would establish 40 new drill sites, which can support numerous holes.

Last week, Constantine released its drilling program results from the summer season. Constantine geologist Liz Cornejo said the mineralization results justify the time and expense of more drill sites and road construction.

Green estimated the road construction will cost more than $500,000. He said he is encouraged by the summer’s results, but said “we still don’t know if we have a mine on our hands.”

The company hasn’t yet done any form of economic analysis of the project, or feasibility study to determine if it would be financially viable. “We think we’re not far from it, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

The company has also been conducting “grassroots” exploration on 100,000 acres of Mental Health Trust Land it leased last year. “We found some mineralization that exhibits a lot of similarities to our existing resource areas,” Green said. “We were very encouraged by that.”

Lynn Canal Conservation president Eric Holle said he wasn’t encouraged to see Constantine is expanding its operations, but was glad the proposal doesn’t yet include underground work.

“Once they start that, that is when they start really piling up a lot of acid-generating waste rock,” Holle said. “It’s good that they’re not doing that, but I have some concerns about the fact that the access road they want to build is in really steep terrain and given the type of rain we have around here, that road could be extremely unstable and blow out and cause sedimentation to Glacier Creek.”

Holle said he is wary of companies building infrastructure under the guise of exploration. “A number of mines in the past have essentially built working mines before they even got the permit, and they do it under the banner of exploration, which can mean permanent buildings and a lot of the infrastructure of a larger mine.”

“It’s starting to happen with their increase of their road miles. They are doubling their road miles and building this bridge and the switchbacks up the hill to their landing,” Holle added.

BLM field manager Teitzel said as part of BLM’s process in reviewing Constantine’s plan of operations, the agency will have to determine if there is “unnecessary and undue degradation.” If the agency determines the proposal would result in unnecessary and undue degradation and alternatives or modifications do not exist, that would trigger an Environmental Impact Statement process, Teitzel said.

Teitzel said he hopes to have the process complete by May, the start of Constantine’s 2016 season.

Email comments on Constantine’s proposed plan of operations to [email protected] or write to the BLM Glennallen Field Office, Attn: Constantine, P.O. Box 147, Glennallen, AK 99588.