A recent drill site at the Palmer Project. (Constantine Metal Resources)

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

If a mineral exploration project north of Haines eventually becomes a mine, it could change the Chilkat Valley’s economic and environmental landscape. Twelve organizations are putting on a two-day forum this weekend to educate residents about what a local mine could mean for the valley.

The idea started with the Takshanuk Watershed Council, which held a smaller mining forum in 2015.

Derek Poinsette is the council’s interim director. He says what began as outreach to a couple people resulted in a 12-organization steering committee planning the event.

It includes the Alaska Miners Association, Lynn Canal Conservation, the Haines Gillnetters Association and two local tribal governments.

“It certainly wasn’t as easy as if you had a group of like-minded people,” Poinsette said. “It was the goal to bring in all viewpoints on a potential mine. So we all had to sit at the table together and figure this out. And it was a successful process.”

The forum spans two days. There are individual presentations each morning and panel discussions each afternoon. Audience members will be able to submit questions for the panelists.

Topics include the economic impacts of mining, state regulation of mines, risks to aquatic life and the social impacts of mining on small and Native communities.

“You know, everybody’s busy and not everyone has time to go and sit down and research rock geochemistry and mineral development,” Poinsette said. “So I think to bring something like this here, it’s one of the few ways that a lot of us have access to some of this information. So yeah, that’s the goal of the whole thing.”

Constantine Metal Resources is evaluating the potential for a large-scale mine about 35 miles north of Haines. The Canadian company is in the advanced stages of exploration at the Palmer Project site.

Constantine expanded exploration this past summer, to promising results. They’re searching for gold, copper, silver and zinc.

Liz Cornejo leads outreach for Constantine. She was involved in the 2015 mining forum. She says one of the criticisms of that event was that not all of the information was relevant to the Chilkat Valley. This time around, organizers are trying to make it more “locally meaningful.”

“The goal for this one versus the last one was to really keep the information relevant to what might be appropriate for Alaska regulations for Glacier Creek Valley and the Chilkat Valley, for this type of mineral deposit at this stage in exploration,” Cornejo said. “And to make it as relevant as we can without a mine plan in place, because that might still be years in the future.”

Cornejo will give an overview of the Palmer Project Saturday morning.

Local debate over the merits of a potential mine rose to the surface in early 2016. The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan nominated the Chilkat River for a high-level environmental protection. The ‘tier 3’ water status would shield the river from activities that could significantly degrade water quality.

The Chilkat River nomination, along with several others, is in limbo. The state of Alaska is still figuring out what process it wants to use to evaluate tier 3 nominations. For that reason, Poinsette says tier 3 will not be a major focus of the forum.

“We did want to stay away from it, not because it’s not pertinent but because later on this winter the state is going to release its framework for evaluating nominations and likely then we will probably have another presentation,” Poinsette. “I would imagine the Fish and Game advisory committee or some other group might bring DEC officials here to talk about that. So we thought that might be a distraction from a lot of the other topics we want to cover in the forum.”

The tier 3 issue will probably come up during the afternoon panel discussions, which are driven by audience questions.

The forum begins Saturday at 8:30 a.m. in the Haines Elementary School Gym.

The event is free, except for a suggested donation for lunch. Takshanuk plans to film the presentations for people who are not able to attend.