Park Easements Sought To Further Mining Plan

By YERETH ROSEN
Alaska Beacon
    The National Park Service said Monday it will evaluate two proposed easements across a portion of Lake Clark National Park that an Alaska Native corporation has requested as a step toward converting an exploratory mineral prospect into an operating mine.
    The Park Service’s evaluation is the latest event in what has been a decades-long effort by Cook Inlet Regional Inc. to develop a mineral prospect that lies within the borders of the park.
    The mineral site, called the Johnson Tract, comprises about 21,000 acres on the west side of Cook Inlet, about 125 miles southwest of Anchorage. CIRI, a regional Native corporation based in Anchorage, acquired it in a land swap directed by a 1976 federal law, the Cook Inlet Land Exchange.
    The prospect holds gold, silver, copper and other minerals.
    The Park Service said it will analyze two potential easements over park territory: one for a transportation corridor to the Johnson Tract mining area and the other for a port at a site called Tuxedni Channel. The 1976 Cook Inlet Land Exchange directs the Secretary of the Interior to provide such easements over land that is now part of Lake Clark National Park, according to the Park Service.
    CIRI has submitted its proposals for transportation and port easements, and the resource analysis will consider the activities that the corporation would need for planning, designing and permitting, the Park Service said.
    Public comments will be accepted until June 24, the Park Service said.  The resource analysis is expected to be released and available for public review in the fall, the Park Service said.
    The Johnson Tract is composed of two pieces of land: the 11,342-acre South Tract, where CIRI holds both surface and subsurface rights, and the 9,600-acre North Tract, where CIRI holds only the subsurface rights.
    Though it was explored in the 1980s and 1990s, activity there was paused until CIRI in 2019 signed a 10-year lease with Vancouver-based HighGold Mining Inc. for further exploration. According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resource, HighGold announced in 2020 that the site holds an estimated 417,000 ounces of gold, plus significant amounts of silver, copper, zinc and lead.
    In May, Fairbanks-based Contango Ore announced it is purchasing HighGold, a transaction expected to be completed in July.
    Contango is a part-owner of the Manh Choh mining project. That project has sparked controversy because of the plans to truck ore hundreds of miles from the mine site southeast of Tok to a processing site at Kincross Gold Corporation’s Fort Knox mine northeast of Fairbanks. Kincross is the majority owner and operator of the Manh Choh mine project, which is on land leased from the Native Village of Tetlin.
    Contango’s president and chief executive is Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse. He was previously president and CEO of Trilogy Metals, the Vancouver-based company seeking to develop the Ambler copper-mining district in Arctic Northwest Alaska. That project includes another controversial transportation proposal, the 211-mile Ambler Access Project. That industrial access route would run through the southern Brooks Range foothills area from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler mining site.
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