Senate throws its support behind pair of Southeast mining projects

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. McGuire, which would give the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority the ability to issue bonds for two multi-mineral mining projects in Southeast Alaska.

The Alaska Senate declared its support for a pair of Southeast Alaska mining ventures Wednesday with the unanimous passage of an Anchorage Republican’s bill.

 

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage and a lieutenant governor hopeful, is the primary sponsor of SB99, which allows the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to dole out more money for new development, she said.

“One of the No. 1 issues we have is we don’t have enough energy infrastructure in the state, and one of the No. 1 challenges cited to reaching that level of infrastructure that we need is access to capital,” McGuire said shortly after the Senate approved the measure.

The legislation was intended to clarify a section of law passed two years ago — also championed by McGuire — but amendments from Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman refocused the legislation on the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earth mine and the Niblack project, both in Southeast.

The first amendment allows AIDEA to issue bonds to help finance Bokan-Dotson, located about 40 miles southwest of Ketchikan, on Prince of Wales Island.

The second amendment does the same for the Niblack mine project — also on Prince of Wales — and the Gravina Island Industrial Complex near Ketchikan.

“Bokan represents an unsurpassed opportunity for Alaska to furnish materials of critical importance to American national defense, energy consumption and competitiveness in high tech applications at a world level, and Alaska lawmakers have recognized this,” Jim McKenzie, President & CEO of Ucore, the company behind the Bokan project, said in a press release issued last month, when Stedman’s amendment was introduced.

The amendment for the Bokan project authorizes AIDEA to issue up to $145 million in long-term bonds. Representatives from the Niblack project did not respond before deadline.

Currently, China controls about 95 percent of the development and export market of rare earth elements, McGuire said.

“If we can begin the process of exploring and developing rare earth minerals, that is a huge opportunity for the state of Alaska,” McGuire said.

She added that the projects could bring as many as 300 year-round jobs to the region.

Still, “the bigger issue is the revenue that can come back to the state in the rare earth minerals, and what we can contribute to national economy,” she said.

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