Constantine Metal Resources wants to expand mineral exploration at their Palmer Project site about 34 miles northwest of Haines. But first, they need permission from the land owner – the Federal Bureau of Land Management. The BLM recently released a draft environmental assessment, but before the agency makes a final decision, it’s asking for public input.
The BLM has already given Constantine permission to conduct exploration on five acres. With the request to expand that footprint, Constantine filed a plan of operations outlining its proposed upgrades. They include extending an access road up to 2.5 miles with culverts and bridges in the Glacier Creek area, and a switchback road with an equipment staging area.
“As we continue to advance the project, we require some better access to support the exploration activities but also to do some additional environmental and geotechnical studies and also to improve the safety of our workers who are out there every day,” Constantine’s Liz Cornejo said.
The new infrastructure would provide access to 40 new drilling sites.
“Based on exploration results, it determines where the next drilling will be,” Cornejo said. “And we’ve consistently applied for a similar number of drill holes in the past knowing full well we don’t have the budget or the time to drill all of those locations, it just gives us flexibility in the exploration plan.”
There was an initial public comment phase a few months ago when Constantine filed their operations plan. Close to 200 individuals and organizations chimed in.
Marnie Graham is a public affairs specialist with the BLM. She says, the BLM takes those public comments and looks at the issues they raise. Then, the agency draws up a draft Environmental Assessment that looks at any potential consequences from the proposed plan. The BLM released its draft report recently, and it’s more than 200 pages long.
“They’re not typically this long,” Graham said. “I think this one has a lot of interest and so a lot of issues were brought forward so we’ve done a pretty detailed analysis. But that remains to be seen if everyone agrees.”
Whether people agree will be answered in this second round of public comment. The BLM is giving people until May 26 to take a look at the environmental assessment and weigh in before the agency makes a final decision.
The draft analysis found no evidence for long-term adverse impacts on things like surface and groundwater, wetlands, and fish habitat. There were just two areas where the BLM wants Constantine to implement some additional precautions.
One is wildlife protection. The BLM recommends measures to steer clear of mountain goats and raptor nests. Additionally, the analysis says Constantine should take steps to prevent introducing non-native invasive plant species when constructing the road extension.
Graham says the wildlife and invasive species precautions are in addition to a list of mitigation measures already required of Constantine.
Overall, Graham says that BLM hasn’t identified any major red flags in Constantine’s plan to extend the road and delve into new drill sites. But before the agency makes a final decision, they’ll review the public comments submitted in the next few weeks.
Cornejo, with Constantine, says the company will comply with BLM’s recommendations.
“Their assessment really demonstrates the high bar that exploration projects are held to in Alaska for environmental stewardship and community engagement and the rigorous analysis that everything goes through. And we look forward to their decision on our activities.”
Cornejo says if they are given the go-ahead, Constantine hopes to get some of the road construction done this summer. They plan to continue mineral exploration for five to 10 years.
The BLM plans to make a final decision by the end of June.