A Canadian company has resumed exploration for gold near Herbert Glacier, trying to see if there’s enough to open a mine.
British Columbia firm Grande Portage Resources Ltd. on Friday began exploratory drilling near the Herbert Glacier north of Juneau, President Ian Klassen confirmed with the Empire.
In a recent phone interview, Klassen said the company isn’t taking gold out of the ground yet but is trying to prove there’s enough there to sell the mineral rights to a larger company, which would itself do the mining.
Any mine in the area would fall under the City and Borough of Juneau’s mining ordinance, which has been a point of contention between environmentalists and a pro-mine group trying to amend the ordinance.
Several popular hiking and biking trails in the area will not be affected by the work, nor will trailside views of scenic Herbert Glacier. Grand Portage will utilize helicopters for transport, Klassen said.
The exploratory work consists of an estimated 10,000-12,000 feet of drilling on 10-13 holes, each a few inches in diameter. Holes are dug with a diamond-tipped drill to as deep as 1,800 feet and aren’t dug on the glacier itself.
Work near Herbert Glacier has been on pause for several years due to a downturn in the mineral market.
Drilling done previous to this year has shown there’s about 200,000 ounces of gold in the vein system. Klassen said they could double that number with exploration work this summer.
“If there are good returns from the drilling, that will get incorporated into a model dictated by a qualified person and hopefully we’ll go from maybe 200,000 ounces to 400,000 ounces,” Klassen said.
In the mining industry, junior and mid-level firms do exploration work, hoping to prove their sites valuable enough to sell to a “major” multi-national company operating a portfolio of mines.
Klassen says Grande Portage has at least a few more drilling seasons to go before proving the site has enough gold to sell to a larger mining company.
“You learn every time you poke a hole in the ground, and we’ll hopefully get up to 1,000,000 ounces of gold,” he said.
The gold exists in a series of mesothermal veins, which are known for their large size and depth. Klassen said this type of mine would not be open-pit, as the site isn’t conducive with open-pit mining.
Permitting for the project was done through the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction on Tongass National Forest land, where the project is taking place.
The USFS requires a plan of operation, which has gone through public testimony and has been reviewed by DNR, Large Mine Project Coordinator Kyle Moselle said. Exploratory projects do not require an environmental impact statement, according to Southeast Alaska Conservation Council Staff Scientist Guy Archibald.
Moselle explained that a plan of operation requires three things: a statement that the exploration company will reclaim any disturbed land, a permit for any water use and a permit with the Alaska Department of Fish &Game in the event they draw water from fish habitat.
The Herbert gold project site lies off the Juneau road system, subjecting it the City and Borough of Juneau mining ordinance. That ordinance has come under scrutiny lately as a group of Juneau business leaders is attempting to change to make it easier to reopen the Alaska-Juneau mine.
The mining ordinance requires companies to submit permits to CBJ for any mine on the Juneau road system, in addition to undergoing state and federal permitting processes. Critics of the ordinance, which was developed in anticipation of the reopening of the long-shuttered AJ Mine near downtown, say the ordinance is a redundancy which keeps mining companies from doing business in Juneau.
Proponents of the ordinance say that it would leave Juneau without a say in projects which would affect the quality of life and environment. The Herbert Glacier area is home to several popular hiking and biking trails and a U.S. Forest Service Public Use Cabin.
SEACC’s Archibald is worried about the Herbert gold project for just this reason. SEACC didn’t ask for any changes to Grande Portage’s latest exploration permit but did on previous permits.
Archibald said the exploration underscores the need for Juneau to keep local control over urban mines. SEACC is leading a hiking and biking tour on the Herbert Glacier Trail on Aug. 12.
“Considering the high recreation values of the area, I would think CBJ would want some level of oversight in the area,” Archibald said. “We’re concerned about a mine out there and what the impacts would be to the ecosystem to the Herbert River and Eagle River and the impacts to recreation.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that a pro-mine group was attempting to repeal the city ordinance. The group is attempting to amend the ordinance. The change has been reflected in the text above.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org