Proposed Alaska Mine to Benefit Mental Health Raises Habitat Concerns

Officials with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority say preliminary results from initial exploration work in Southeast Alaska have confirmed potential for gold and also quantify other heavy minerals as prospective co-products.

Acting executive director Wyn Menefee says the trust authority may not make an end decision on the mine for several years, but there are potential economic opportunities, from tax revenues for the state to jobs to enhance the economy, and he says international mining companies have already expressed interest in the project. The trust authority’s mandate is to generate revenue to fund programs for Alaskans in need of mental health services – residents dealing with issues ranging from developmental disability and Alzheimer’s disease to substance abuser disorders.

Menefee says if the project proceeds that the trust will be required to and will protect water quality. He also notes that this is a mining district, and that timber harvests have also been going on for many years in this area. So far, the trust has spent some $2 million on the project and they plan to spend another $3 million, he said.

The trust also has plans to develop timber resources and a sale pending to Sealaska Corp., with the regional Alaska Native Corporation to do the harvest next year.

The prospect of mining and logging activity in this area near Icy Cape, about 75 miles from Yakutat, is problematic, according Guy Archibald, staff scientist with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council in Juneau, Alaska.

“All the rivers in this area are anadromous primarily coho (salmon) habitat,” says Archibald.“They are going to bulldoze and basically strip mine around those streams. We know that the permitting process is not protective,” he said. “How are these to be protected from what is basically a strip mining operation?”
Archibald is concerned about sand deposits on the shoreline that function as barrier dunes. “They protect the uplands from erosion, especially during the winter months,” he said. “If you remove the sand, how do you prevent erosion from winter storms. This will also impact the rivers.”