The conflict over establishing a hardrock mine near the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines, Alaska took a new turn recently with the filing of a lawsuit by an Alaska Native Tlingit tribe and three environmental groups. The group is suing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), saying that the agency granted mineral exploration permits at the Palmer Deposit without considering how a mine could affect the Chilkat River’s salmon and the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
Joining the Tlingit village of Klukwan in the lawsuit against the BLM are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), Lynn Canal Conservation and Rivers Without Borders. They are represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. The group is asking for permits to be revoked.
“We have strongly objected to BLM’s permitting process as it does not take into account the environmental risks from a fully operating hardrock mine. Hardrock mining is a threat to our Chilkat wild stock salmon and the sustainability of our community. All five species of wild Pacific Salmon, as well as Steelhead, and Dolly Varden inhabit the watershed. It continues to feed our people as it has for thousands of years” said Kimberley Strong, Tribal President of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan in a press release announcing the lawsuit.
Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia along with investment partner Dowa Metals & Mining Co., Ltd. of Japan are exploring a potential site for a mine just above Glacier Creek and the Klehini River near the British Columbia border. This area (center, on the mountainside in the above photo) is known as the Palmer Deposit. The river at the bottom of the photo is the Klehini River, a tributary of the Chilkat River. The minerals that Constantine’s drilling explorations have found are primarily copper and zinc, with significant amounts of gold and silver. Exploratory drilling to refine the location and mineral amounts are the current focus of the company.
If approved and developed, the mine, near Haines, Alaska would be an underground mine, desirable because of the nearby highway access for transporting ore to the deepwater port at Haines. The Haines Highway can be seen on the right in the photo above. Also pictured is the area of exploration on the mountainside in the above photo(upper left area of photo), Glacier Creek (along the bottom of the photo) and the Klehini River (right side of the photo).
Community conflicted over Palmer Deposit exploration
Support for a large scale mine, such as Constantine’s Palmer Project, is divided among residents of Haines, a small community in Southeast Alaska 75 miles northwest of Juneau. The community’s needed economic boost from jobs, development and other mine support that a large-scale mine brings is tempting to some. To others, anything that might put the salmon spawning and rearing habitat and watershed resources at risk is simply unimaginable and unacceptable. Of particular concern is copper and other heavy metals in mine waste leaching into the Klehini River (shown) and the Chilkat River 14 miles downstream. Copper and heavy metals are toxic to salmon and bald eagles.
The Associated Press reported that Liz Cornejo, Constantine’s vice president for community and external affairs, stated the company is reviewing the lawsuit but she had no immediate additional comment.
The Chilkat River chum salmon are the primary food source for one of the largest gatherings of bald eagles in the world. Each fall, bald eagles congregate in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, located only three miles downriver from the area of current exploration.
Late fall view of the Klehini River (foreground). The snow-covered mountainside in the upper right is above Glacier Creek, a tributary of the Klehini River. Palmer Deposit explorations have been taking place on that mountainside.
In August 2015, Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia submitted a plan with the BLM to extend their existing access road by 2.5 miles including a switchback road leading to a staging area at the 800 ft. level on the side of the 1,700 ft. mountainside (left). A proposed bridge crossing Glacier Creek would be located in the shadow area in the lower center of the photo with a switchback road leading from the Glacier Creek to the staging area for helicopter and ground-supported activities on the left. The road would also provide access for up to 40 new exploration drill sites. Pictured in the background is the Klehini River. A map showing exactly how this road would appear can be found here
- EARTHJUSTICE PRESS RELEASE — Alaska native and conservation groups sue Bureau of Land Management for shortsighted approval of mineral exploration at the Palmer Deposit
- VIDEO — Why the Tlingit village of Klukwan opposes the exploration for a mine at the Palmer Deposit
- COURT DOCUMENT — of the lawsuit filed by Earthjustice over Palmer Deposit mine exploration near Chilkat River bald eagle preserve
- ROAD EXPLORATION PROJECT SUMMARY to Bureau of Land Management
- CONSTANTINE METAL RESOURCES LTD. — Palmer Project
- HIGH COUNTRY NEWS — Could an Alaska mining project jeopardize Earth’s largest bald eagle gathering?
- PHOTO GALLERY — Images of bald eagles at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve
- BLOG POST — Bald eagle’s view of Constantine Metal’s Palmer Deposit
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