KETCHIKAN — An aggressive timeline for mineral exploration, planning and permitting work at a Prince of Wales mineral prospect could lead to the beginning of mine construction by 2015, according to its owner.
Heatherdale Resources will resume surface exploration drilling in late May or early June at its Niblack site 27 miles from Ketchikan, said Chief Executive Officer Patrick Smith.
The company hopes to construct a mine that will extract copper, gold, zinc and silver.
The Ketchikan Daily News reports a major upcoming decision will be where to build a mill to process ore concentrate. The company has been looking at possible mill sites for eight months.
“What we’d like to move (the ore) to is a site that maybe has some industrial prior activity, that’s on the water ... That has cheaper power — because here at Niblack we’d have to pay for diesel power — that is close to a community where people can go back and forth to work,” Smith said. “They can have a nice job ... and they can drive home at night, and we don’t necessarily have to build big crew facilities.”
The company considered potential sites in Canada.
“I tell you today, it’s definitely going to stay in Alaska,” Smith said. “There’s no worries there.”
Heatherdale is looking at Revillagigedo Island, home to Ketchikan, Gravina Island, the site of the community’s airport, and Tolstoi Bay sites owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust and Sealaska Corp.
From the mill site, mineral concentrates would be shipped to smelters elsewhere, such as Japan or China.
Niblack’s current estimate of mineral resources is about 9 million tons. Heatherdale officials hope summer exploration work will expand that by 1 to 2 million tons.
“The (resource) numbers look good,” Smith said. “They would look really, really, really good with about another million or two million tons. So that’s our focus this year.”
Heatherdale likely will start pre-feasibility work next year.
“That pre-feasibility study work means we have to start nailing down where the mill’s going to be, exactly how we’re going to mine it, (and) what are the costs,” Smith said. The pre-feasibility process also will determine permitting aspects and make sure the company is preparing necessary baseline environmental studies, he said.
By the end of 2013, Smith said, Heatherdale would begin feasibility work and permitting process. The time for the latter is uncertain, he said, but he estimates two years.
Heatherdale, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, became a joint-venture partner in 2009. Other companies had spent about $51 million on exploration. Heatherdale acquired its joint venture partner in January, and now owns 100 percent of the Niblack project.
Heatherdale, Smith said, has invested about $30 million in exploration and geological study work since late 2009.
“We’ve been drilling pretty much nonstop from underground since then, about 185,000 feet of underground core drilling up ‘til last November,” Smith said.
The current estimated amount of resources would provide for a mine life of 10 to 12 years, based on mining 1,500 tons a day.
Heatherdale estimates that 130 people would be employed at the mine site and 65 at the mill site.
He spoke last week to the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce.