Mine Drilling OK’d in Two Roadless Areas

Tuesday, the Forest Service OK’d exploratory drilling at two Southeast Alaska mine sites.

The work will be done in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest. That means they needed approval from agency Chief Tom Tidwell.

The Greens Creek mine is allowed up to three drilling sites totaling less than an acre. The operating multi-metal mine is on Admiralty Island, about 20 miles southwest of Juneau.

The Niblack project is OK’d for eight drilling sites, also totaling less than an acre. It is a multi-metal project is on Prince of Wales Island, around 30 miles southwest of Ketchikan.

Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton says helicopters will move equipment to and from the sites. She says no roads will be built and reclamation will follow drilling operations.

“They would be permitted then to go in and actually construct the drilling pad sites and proceed with geotechnical and exploration drilling at those sites,” she says.

Greens Creek and Niblack were part of a recent court agreement listing mine, hydropower and other projects that would be allowed in roadless areas of the Tongass. An earlier court ruling imposed the nationwide roadless rule in Alaska after years of exemptions.

Drilling will help determine the extent and makeup of mineral deposits. Pendleton says other exploration has taken place outside areas designated as roadless.

“We’re able to expedite this process, but just to insure that any kind of incidental cutting of trees is acknowledged. And we’ve moved forward now with the approvals so the operators will be able to continue their exploration and drilling,” she says.

The Forest Service earlier this month approved tree-clearing for two other Southeast exploration projects. One is on Woewodski Island, south of Petersburg. The other is at Bokan Mountain, on southern Prince of Wales Island.

Greens Creek is owned by Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company.

Niblack is a mineral prospect being developed by Vancouver, British Columbia, based Heatherdale Resources. Its size and employment potential has been compared to Greens Creek.

The mines’ operators could not be reached for immediate comment.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.

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