A Southeast Alaska Native regional corporation is restarting its mineral exploration program.
Sealaska halted its mineral exploration program in 2000 after metal prices steeply declined. The corporation continued, however, to conduct small-scale mineral assessments on its Prince of Wales Island lands.
Rick Harris, the corporation’s executive vice president, said seeing progress made on the Niblack and Bokan mines on the island, coupled with stronger metals and rare earth minerals prices, helped Sealaska make the decision to restart its mineral program. Harris said mineral deposits continued to be found as Sealaska continued its timber harvesting on POW Island.
“In the communities it seems there’s a pretty high degree of receptivity to seeing well done mineral exploration and possible mineral development,” Harris said. “We felt that all of these things were coming together ... so we decided that it was time to re-engage and look into our mineral properties.”
Minerals Manager Steve Buckley has been on the job for less than two weeks and is just starting to plan an outreach and exploration program on POW Island. He said Sealaska is already aware of copper-lead-zinc-silver deposits, similar to what’s found at the Greens Creek Mine, on its land; he said there’s also potential to find rare earth elements.
While part of Buckley’s job is finding the right deposit that might warrant a mine, the other part is community outreach, he said.
“A lot of these communities have a history with mining, Kasaan for example,” Buckley said. “We’re kind of soliciting input from those folks that have been there and trying to explain what we’re proposing and give them an idea of what impacts they might expect, too.”
Buckley said he anticipates that community concerns will likely focus on what kind of mining Sealaska intends to do, where that mining might be located and what the impacts will be.
“One of the real neat things about Southeast Alaska is fishing and mining have co-existed for over a hundred years, so part of that is trying to help explain to people how that might be managed and how you develop a mine responsibly and sustainably so that you don’t impact water quality,” Buckley said. “Those are the kinds of things where we’d have to do a little education trying to get people to understand what kinds of deposits we’re looking at, what those mines might look like and how we can manage the mine waste, that kind of thing.”
Buckley came to Sealaska from NANA, another regional Native corporation headquartered in Kotzebue, where he oversaw their mineral exploration program. He’s also done minerals exploration for the Flathead tribes in Montana and has done consulting work for tribes in the Northwest.