Wednesday was the deadline to submit comments to the state on a controversial mineral exploration project near Haines. The public had 30 days to review Constantine Metal Resource’s plan for managing waste during the excavation of a mile-long access tunnel.
However, some comments submitted by mail bounced back because the Department of Natural Resources failed to list a P.O. Box on its public notice.
A little over a week ago, Haines resident Tim June wrote a letter to the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR. He had been reading up on Constantine’s permit applications for the Palmer Project, a mineral exploration site about 35 miles from town.
He says he wrote DNR because he had concerns about the company’s plan to prevent degradation of nearby streams during the excavation of a mile-long access tunnel.
“There’s close to 2,000 pages of documents to go through, and I think I probably took three full days of reading as much as I could,” June says.
He requested that DNR give the public more time to comment on the project’s waste management permit and reclamation plan.
On Wednesday, his letter showed up at the Haines post office marked ‘return to sender.’ June called DNR to find out what happened.
“They said, ‘Oh you have to have a P.O. Box on our address or else it gets bounced back by central mail in Juneau.’ And so I asked them for that P.O. Box since it wasn’t listed on their website or on any of the public comment brochures and it took them about ten minutes to even find out what their P.O. Box was,” June says.
Kyle Moselle handles the public comments on the Palmer Project for DNR. He says that the postal service has delivered mail to DNR’s physical address in Juneau before.
“In my inbox right now on my desk I have mail that has the physical address on some of that mail and I have mail with the PO box on the mail,” Moselle says. “Both of them have been delivered relatively recently.”
When he contacted the U.S. Postal Service’s office in Juneau, Moselle was told that mail could only be delivered to DNR’s PO box.
Moselle says he knows of two letters commenting on the Palmer Project that were returned to the senders. He has since received those letters. However, the total number of letters submitted to DNR that bounced back is unknown.
“It’s a situation that is kind of in flux right now, and I just don’t have all the answers of what our response to that situation is going to be. I’m working on that with DNR and DEC.”
Dozens of comments submitted by email, including a letter from the Haines Borough, requested more time to review Constantine’s permit application. The lapse in delivering letters to DNR raises more questions about whether the comment period should be extended.
The Palmer Project has been a source of controversy for residents of the Chilkat Valley. While some are excited about potential economic benefits of the project, others are concerned about the impact that mining could have on habitat for spawning salmon.
The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan and multiple conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging Constantine’s previous mineral exploration permits. An appeal of a previous court decision upholding the permits was filed last week.
The correct mailing address for submitting comments on the Palmer Project to DNR is P.O. Box 111030, Juneau, Alaska 99811.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed DNR’s zip code as 99801. The correct zip code is 99811.