Court rules against Klukwan, conservation groups in permitting lawsuit

A drill site at the Palmer Project north of Haines. (Photo courtesy of Constantine Metal Resources)

On Friday, a federal court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not have to consider future impacts of mine development before approving activities for mineral exploration in the Chilkat Valley.

The Canadian company Constantine Metal Resources is conducting mineral exploration at a site known as the Palmer Project, about 17 miles west of Klukwan and 35 miles north of Haines. At the moment, Constantine is assessing the site’s potential for mine development.

In 2016, BLM approved Constantine’s plan to expand exploration operations at the site. The agency conducted an environmental assessment and received public comments. It found potential environmental impacts from exploration activity to be insignificant and gave Constantine the go-ahead.

The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation and Rivers Without Borders responded with a lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argued that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, by failing to consider the impacts of potential future mine development when it approved the operation plan.

Judge Timothy M. Burgess ruled that BLM is not required to review potential future impacts from mine development before approving exploration activities.

The ruling hinged on whether mineral exploration and mine development are inextricably linked. The court found that they are not because mineral exploration does not always lead to mine development.

The Palmer Project has been contentious for residents of the Chilkat Valley. The site is located upstream of several rivers that provide habitat for spawning salmon. Some worry that mine development could contaminate the environment and wild food sources for surrounding communities.

Representatives from the parties involved in the lawsuit were unavailable for comment by broadcast time.