Vancouver-based Graphite One Resources announced this month they’ve finalized all land purchases for a promising graphite claim on the Seward Peninsula. But village residents in the area are concerned the proposed mine could harm subsistence resources. And they’re frustrated they haven’t yet heard from company officials.
Graphite One Resources has already drilled some exploratory holes at their claim. Vice President Dean Besserer says they’ll do more work this summer to measure the mine’s economic potential.
“It’s similar to pre-feasibility stage, so applying some economics to ensure that the resource is actually viable or looks to be viable for mining,” Besserer said.
This summer the company will stage operations from a camp off the Teller Road, with more employees working in Nome testing deposit samples. Jerald Brown, a vice-president at the Bering Straits Regional Corporation says they’ve worked with Graphite One the last two years, helping with logistics.
GraphiteOne has attracted a lot of interest. The city of Nome has referred to the potential value of the deposit to bolster its case for building a deep-draft port. And at Monday’s common council meeting, port project manager Joy Baker spoke of getting inquiries about graphite ore transport from a shipping company based in Norway. But so far the mining company has not reached out to the nearby communities of Brevig Mission or Teller, both of which would be directly affected if the deposit is mined.
Albert Oquilluq has served on the Mary’s Igloo Traditional Council based in Teller since 2005. He says potential mine site is one of the most important subsistence grounds for people living in the area.
“The importance of the graphite creek area—it’s a food source, a seasonal food source. We get moose and musk ox and reindeer, occasionally. And migratory birds when they migrate through there. It’s an abundant resource,” Oquilluq said. “And we also get a lot of our berries for the winter there. It’s just a great place to get our winter supply of food.”
There’s also fishing and a small seal harvest from nearby waterways. Oquilluq says nobody with the three IRA’s close by were aware of the claim’s development status. Nor have they been contacted by anyone from the company about the possibility of open-pit mining near a prime food and water source.
“Yeah, we also haven’t heard from this company,” Oquilluq said. “Now the sale is final on that and there was no imput—we did not have any input in the decision making process, so, we kind of feel left out. It’s gonna affect our food security, so…”
Matt Ganley is in charge of land and resources for BSNC, and says that while they’ve helped Graphite One with logistics in the region, that has not included contacting any tribal governments. Besserer says that Graphite One is waiting until after the Alaska Mining Conference this April to reach out to communities close to the deposit.
“Well we understand that we need to have a presence in the community, and educate both the people and the shareholders in the area as to what’s going on with respect to Graphite One’s exploration campaign,” Besserer said. “And we aim to do that in both the spring and summer of this year.”
Joe Price, project manager for Graphite One, says the company held off reaching out to tribes in the region until work on the mine was further along. That way they’d have firmer information on hand for meetings.