A mineral exploration company from Canada has signed an agreement with an Alaska Native regional corporation to study a long-dormant gold prospect on Native land in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.
Conservation groups said they'll be watching the project closely.
Constantine Metal Resources on Tuesday announced the nonbinding deal with Cook Inlet Region Inc. The company plans to finalize a 10-year lease with CIRI involving 21,000 acres on the west side of Cook Inlet, near Tuxedni Bay.
"Johnson Tract is an exceptional gold asset and adds significant opportunity and value to Constantine's gold project portfolio," said Garfield MacVeigh, Constantine chief executive, in a statement. "We are excited about the chance to explore and advance the project for the mutual benefit of CIRI and Constantine in a manner consistent with CIRI's cultural values."
A defunct mining company called Anaconda discovered the deposit in 1982 about 125 miles southwest of Anchorage, Constantine said. Nearly 90 holes have been drilled there, but the area hasn't been explored in more than 20 years.
The prospect is relatively small, but the high concentration of gold and other minerals make up for the size, MacVeigh said.
Gold prices much lower than they are today, plus changes in project ownership, have contributed to the lack of development, MacVeigh said on Wednesday.
MacVeigh said CIRI identified the property for its mineral potential in 1975. The land was conveyed to the Native corporation under the terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
CIRI is "entitled to mutually agreed upon easements" with the National Park Service, such as for the land to build a port at Tuxedni Bay, he said.
Sophie Minich, CIRI president, said the project is designed to deliver economic benefits to Alaska Native shareholders while respecting the environment.
"With Constantine's excellent reputation for responsible mineral exploration and development activities, we know we have chosen the ideal partner," Minich said in the statement.
At a different project in Southeast Alaska, Constantine has for years explored the Palmer copper-and-zinc prospect in the Chilkat Valley near Haines, said Gershon Cohen, with Alaska Clean Water Advocacy.
Constantine has said it will protect the environment there, but Cohen said the company is small and will likely hand off development to a better-funded partner with different ethics.
"Their promises are hollow," Cohen said.
MacVeigh said whoever develops its Alaska mining projects, possibly Constantine itself, must adhere to every state and federal environmental requirement.
"The requirements don't change whether someone else comes in or not," he said.