JUNEAU - A Canadian mining company plans to resume exploration efforts on Southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island as part of a project seeking copper, gold, silver and zinc.
Heatherdale Resources plans to resume work at the Niblack Project site this month following a reshuffling of debt and rising copper and gold prices, CoastAlaska reported. Work at the site was halted several years ago.
The exploration company has a surface drilling application pending with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The project about 30 miles southwest of Ketchikan has been promoted as a potential major employer if it advances.
But critics have argued that current plans do not provide an effective way to keep heavy metals and acidic waste out of the environment.
The company has permits to discharge mine waste through a sprinkler system and an inactive water treatment plant. Permits that expired this summer were extended by state regulators while the company seeks renewals.
Niblack Project Manager Graham Neale said mine waste collects in a settling pond before liquid runoff is discharged on land.
“It’s a passive treatment system designed to filter out any contaminants,” Neale said.
Drainage is monitored, sampled and reported to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, he said.
While the company has a plant that could treat discharge, it has raised cost concerns about running it.
Guy Archibald, staff scientist with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a conservation group, questioned that approach.
“Offloading their costs from treating pollution onto the public . should not be allowed,” he said.
Neale said running the plant is not necessary as long as water quality remains below a certain threshold. If runoff exceeds certain levels, regulators would require chemical treatment, he said.
The Department of Environmental Conservation in a statement said its mission of “conserving, improving, and protecting” natural resources and the environment is accomplished through the permits.
The permits ensure that project discharge “is protective of the water quality so that all Alaskans may share in the economic and social well-being provided by those waters,” the statement said.