Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia along with investment partner Dowa Metals & Mining Co., Ltd. of Japan is exploring a potential site for a mine in the area of a massive volcanogenic sulfide deposit (located upper right) just above Glacier Creek (not shown) and the Klehini River (foreground), near Haines Alaska. This area, known as the Palmer Deposit is located near mile 40 of the Haines Highway and the Porcupine placer gold mining area, currently seen on Discovery TV’s hit show, “Gold Rush”.
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. Constantine is encouraged by the samples from the 52 drill holes (as of 2013) they have collected so far. The company says these encouraging findings point to great potential for the project. In a company press release Garfield MacVeigh, President and CEO says, “2014 is poised to be a promising year for Constantine and the advancement of the Palmer project. We look forward to what will be the most active year in the company’s history and the opportunity to continue proving up Palmer’s potential.”
If approved and developed, the mine would be an underground mine. Besides the actual ore deposits, having the nearby highway access for transporting ore to the deepwater port at Haines is also attractive to Constantine. From Haines, ore would be shipped to smelters in Asia.
In April 2014, Constantine Metal Resources was awarded the right to lease 99,257 acres from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. This area, known as the Haines Block is located adjacent to the approximate 16,000 acre Palmer property. It shares similar geology to the Palmer Deposit.
Support for a large scale mine such as the Constantine project is divided among residents of Haines, a small community in Southeast Alaska 75 miles northwest of Juneau. A 2011 survey of Haines residents revealed 50% support for a large scale mine located in the Chilkat Valley, the lowest percentage of choices offered for economic development opportunities. 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.
Mine opponents, including tribal organizations and local and regional conservation groups, worry that a mine and associated roads will have the potential to negatively affect the pristine Chilkat watershed’s rivers, creeks and fish. Of particular concern is copper and other heavy metals in mine waste leaching into the Klehini and Chilkat River. Copper, in particular, is toxic to salmon. Mine opponents easily point to the mining industry’s history of not being able to effectively manage the finely ground mine waste tailings and acid rock drainage, another concern and often byproduct of mining high sulfide deposits.
The Chilkat watershed supports all five species of wild Pacific salmon (chinook, coho, pink, chum) within it’s spawning and rearing habitat. Salmon are important economically to the region’s fishing industry, equally important culturally to the native Tlingit and as a subsistence food source to area residents.
These salmon, particularly chum salmon, are also 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. At times more than 3,000 eagles have been recorded at the primary gathering area for the fall chum salmon run.
Biologists and mine opponents point out that like salmon, bald eagles are also very sensitive to copper and heavy metals. Because the visiting bald eagles come to the river to eat salmon, the eagles would be at great risk of accumulating copper in their bodies if the fish they eat are laced with heavy accumulations of copper and other heavy metals.
How this all transpires is yet to be determined. I suspect that as future geological exploration further identifies location, quality and yield, the supporters and opponents of developing a mine at the Palmer Deposit will rally their respective base of supporters, leading to heated discussions within and outside the local Haines community. In the end, scientific research and base-line environmental data will play a key role in helping formulate reasoned answers to the serious questions and concerns that will need to be raised.
A long line dangles from a helicopter above the location of the potential mine site being explored by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. To license image, click image.
The close proximity of the potential Constantine Palmer Deposit mine site (upper right) to the Klehini River (foreground) is worrisome to opponents to the mine. The Klehini River flows into the Chilkat River. Both are important salmon rivers. Heavy metal mine tailings, particularly copper are toxic to salmon and bald eagles. To license image, click image.
The Palmer Deposit area (far right) is near the historic Porcupine placer gold mining area located in the left, low foreground area of the photo and below distant Porcupine Peak (left rear). To license image, click image.
The Saksaia Glacier sits at the top of the Glacier Creek valley near the location of the potential mine site being explored by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. To license image, click image.
UPDATE: In August 2014, Constantine Metal Resources announced that Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation signed an equity funding agreement with Constantine’s partner Dowa Metals and Mining Co. Ltd. Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation is a Japanese government organization with a mandate to secure a stable supply of natural resources for Japan. It provides financial assistance to companies for overseas exploration.