KENAI - A Canadian company is planning to develop a mining site near Lake Iliamna that is believed to contain the largest gold deposit in North America.
"It is world class," said Bruce Jenkins, a spokesman for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, which was among several companies to stake claims in the area last year.
Jenkins said the location, known as the Pebble porphyry deposit, is believed to contain 26.5 million ounces of gold and 16.5 billion pounds of copper. If those figures are accurate, that would rank the Pebble deposit as the largest known gold deposit and second-largest copper deposit in North America.
The discovery is approximately 15 miles north of the village of Iliamna in an area of rolling foothills that Jenkins said could be an ideal location for a gold mine. It is near tidewater at Cook Inlet and deposits are near the surface.
Northern Dynasty has budgeted more than $15 million for work on developing the project this year. Most of that money will go toward additional mapping of the site and preliminary environmental work.
Jenkins, whose background is in environmental sciences and fisheries biology, said because the site lies in an environmentally sensitive area wedged between the Lake Clark and Katmai National Preserves, Northern Dynasty will spend a significant amount of time and money conducting baseline environmental monitoring before submitting its environmental impact statement.
"It's not without its challenges," he told the Peninsula Clarion. "There are several major stream systems in the area. We won't just let the engineers go in and (plan the mine) independent of the environmental concerns."
Cook Inlet Keeper is closely watching the project, said Bob Shavelson, executive director of Homer-based environmental watchdog.
"Any time you've got some open pit strip mining, you're going to have concerns for fish streams in the area," Shavelson said. "Hopefully, we'll find some ways to work together to proceed with some type of development while protecting the resources in the area."
Northern Dynasty has begun preliminary talks with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation.
Jenkins said the company would spend between $700 million and $1 billion on capital costs.