Rock Creek Mine equipment to be sold, shipped south

Muskox grazing on the reclaimed land of Rock Creek Mine. (Photo via Bering Straits Native Corporation)
Muskox grazing on the reclaimed land of Rock Creek Mine. (Photo via Bering Straits Native Corporation)

It’s been a long and unproductive road for the Rock Creek Mine, but now that its being stripped and sold for profit, money will finally flow into the pockets of its current owner, Bering Straits Native Corporation.

The mine was originally owned by Canadian mining company NovaGold and operated by its subsidiary, Alaska Gold. It opened briefly in 2008 before shutting its doors just months later. In the two years of preproduction and the two months of actual production, the mine went more than $20 million over budget, lost two of its workers in a construction-related accident, and violated the Clean Water Act, resulting in over $800,000 in federal fines.

There was a glimmer of hope that the mine’s doors would reopen when Bering Straits bought it from NovaGold in 2012. CEO Gail Shubert told KNOM in an interview at the time of the purchase that they planned to bring the mine back into production, albiet on a much smaller scale.

“Economic development opportunities are few and far between in rural Alaska,” Shubert said.

Given that NovaGold had already invested several hundred million dollars into the site, Shubert explained, “we just really felt that it was a good opportunity and kind of our responsibility to look closely at it to see whether it couldn’t be made operational.”

At the time, Shubert hoped the mine could be an economic engine for the region.

You know we want to be able to provide some jobs and other opportunities to our shareholders and descendants and other folks that live in region.”

But what they hoped would be a source of revenue for locals, turned out instead to be a continuation of clean up and reclamation. Now, its seems that along with ridding the land of toxins, Bering Straits will also be clearing out the facility’s interior.

A news release published by another Canadian mining company, Almaden Minerals, revealed that it was entering into an agreement with Bering Straits to purchase much of the mine’s equipment.

Over the span of two and a half years, Almaden will pay Bering Straits $6.5 million for the equipment. Jerald Brown, Bering Straits’ Vice President of Nome Operations, has been working on the sale for a little over a year and says they’ve recovered 100% of the purchase price to date without including the proceeds from the sale of the equipment.

“So it actually was a very good investment decision that Gail Shubert worked on and negotiated,” Brown explained.

Along with the profitability of the purchase, Brown is optimistic that the land will eventually give back to Nomemites, though this time in a different way.

“It will go back to being an area where people can go berry picking and look at the muskox and everything they were doing before the mine was there,” said Brown.

The mine’s minimally-used equipment will be shipped south, where it will be put to work at a gold mine in Mexico.

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Emily Russell, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage
Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer. Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF. Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about. Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.