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Mine projects OK’d in roadless areas

Posted: August 16, 2011 - 10:09pm

Two more mining projects in inventoried roadless areas have been approved. U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell approved geotechnical and exploration drilling for the Greens Creek Mine and Niblack Mine exploration projects. These are located on Admiralty Island and Prince of Wales Island, respectively.

Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton announced the approval on Tuesday for the mining projects, saying it will allow Greens Creek to continue expanding its tailings site and Niblack to continue exploration. Both projects have completed or are close to completing National Environmental Policy Act analyses, according to a Forest Service release.

“In each case, helicopters will transport the drilling rigs, no roads will be constructed or reconstructed and site reclamation will be completed after drilling operations are done. Both projects will create new mining jobs in Southeast Alaska,” Pendleton said in the release.

“These two projects will help employ Alaskans on important projects while providing crucial environmental safeguards,” Undersecretary Harris Sherman of the Department of Agriculture said in the release. “Both the Niblack and Green Creek projects will have minimal footprints-less than an acre apiece-with the potential for substantial boosts to local economies.”

Forest Service spokesman Ray Massey said the inventoried roadless areas can still allow mining and other projects. These can be approved by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack or delegated down. In this case, approval was delegated to Tidwell.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich expressed his pleasure of the projects. In a release, he said, “I appreciate the U.S. Forest Service moving these projects forward. The Niblack permit is critical for completion of this year’s exploration plan, while the permit for Greens Creek will provide data needed for the proposed tailings expansion project.”

“Mining exploration and enhancement of existing mine operations help to create and keep a significant number of jobs in the area. I am particularly grateful that Undersecretary Sherman and Chief Tidwell have been receptive to my support of these projects in Southeast Alaska,” he said. “During my recent visit to Ketchikan, I met with officials from Ucore Rare Metals, the company proposing to operate a rare earth element mine at Bokan Mountain. It is clear that mining is playing an increasingly important role in Southeast Alaska’s economy.”

Grassroots Attorney Buck Lindekugel of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said the projects should not come as a surprise to anyone because the Roadless Rule doesn’t automatically prohibit mining in roadless areas. He said this has been a common misconception about the Rule.

“Despite all the hoopla, this flatly contradicts that argument,” he said.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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