September 30, 2009

Oklahoma firm stakes massive AK mining claim, angering natives

Print More

Wow. What’s shaping up as another fractious Alaskan mining battle — possibly as contentious as those already raging on the Pebble and Kensington mines–  just hit the headlines today.

It’s a little puzzling that this supposed $35 billion gold find in Southeast Alaska — that’s a huge find, if true — has induced only three short news stories since emerging this morning in the Juneau Empire. That’s particularly true considering that this one seems destined to cause a lot of controversy, as  some of the land claimed by Oklahoma City-based Geohedral LLC is revered as sacred by Native Americans. Not to mention that people living in the area, near Yukatat, are heavily dependent on fisheries that they are pretty sure are going to be hurt by the mining. Many are subsistence fishermen.

However, Herb Mee Jr., president of The Beard Co., which owns a 23 percent stake in Geohedral, told Eric Morrison of the Empire:

We envision no environmental problems in what we will be doing.

Now, as we have previously documented, hardrock mines like this have a history of going great guns when metals prices are high — gold’s now trading at nearly $1,000 an ounce, representing roughly a quadrupling in price in the last decade — and then going belly up when metals prices drop. Our work also showed that sometimes, these mines stick taxpayers with massive cleanup bills.

That’s what locals in Yukatat fear. Said Raymond Sensmeier, a fisherman and member of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe Council:

We’re deeply concerned … It’s an outrage for the Native community, not to mention all those rivers our fishermen fish. We have been a fishing community for hundreds and probably thousands of years.

However, state and federal officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude. A representative of the state’s Department of Fish and Game told the Empire he doesn’t see how the more than 58,000 acres could be mined without harming the numerous fish-bearing streams. But he hasn’t seen the mining plan. It seems no one in the government has.

Some of the mining claims Geohedral filed are in the Tongass National Forest, meaning they are allowed under the 1872 Mining Law.

That law does not allow the U.S. Forest Service to turn down a mine, even though the land is owned by the public. Nor does the law require the miners to pay the government royalties, the way firms that drill for oil and gas on public land must do.

Other laws require the preparation of an environmental impact statement, and the Forest Service can try to make the mine as environmentally friendly as possible. But it cannot say no to the miners.

Hmm. Looking a little further back in time, we see that The Daily Oklahoman was the first to have this story, or at least part of it. The Oklahoman’s Friday piece by Jay Marks has some interesting background on Geohedral but did not delve into the objections to the mine.

— Robert McClure

Comments are closed.