The Palmer mineral deposit is contained within the ridge in the left foreground. Viewpoint is looking northeast, up the Klehini River Valley and across the Canadian border.
(Photo Courtesy of Takshanuk Watershed Council, Photo by Connor Gallagher)

Constantine Metal Resources released the results of its Preliminary Economic Assessment on Monday—the first published, on-record description of what a future mine could be. While investors peruse potential mine earnings, the company is doing separate work to secure permits that will allow them to achieve the results promised in the PEA. The public comment period for those permits just ended.

The Department of Environmental Conservation received over 200 comments on Constantine Metal Resources’ waste management permit applications—permits that would allow the Palmer Project to expand. Fifty or sixty of those came in during the fifteen day extension. A memo from Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Habitat was among them. The Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Committee wants a more substantive response.

“[The memo] had about four sentences about where fish exist in the area and a sentence about how the department would make recommendations to Constantine regarding wildlife management,” said Shannon Donahue, a member of the advisory committee.

“They really didn’t look into the impacts on fish and wildlife habitat and so we were asking for a thorough analysis of the impacts and potential impacts of this project.”

The Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Committee is a citizen’s advisory council and an official body of the state. Their job is to make recommendations to ADF&G. In a meeting last week they voted 7:1 to send a letter to the department asking for the department for more “meaningful” comments on the waste management permits.

The state constitution says fish and wildlife resources belong to the people of Alaska. It’s ADF&Gs mission to protect those resources so people can use them.

The permits in question will allow Constantine Metal Resources to develop a staging area for equipment and excavate a 2,000-meter underground ramp to provide easier drilling access.

“The project is at an irreversible point once they begin digging the tunnel. So we just want to make sure that before any  irreversible actions are taken that the Fish and Game [Department] has really analyzed what the potential impacts are,” Donahue said.

Kat Kanouse is the Southeast Regional Supervisor for ADF&G’s Division of Habitat. She’s the one who signed off on their comment.  In a meeting last week she said the advisory committee raised good questions, but that her department only manages fish, not water quality.

“Yes, you’re absolutely right that water flows downhill and enters the Glacier Creek and then on to Klehini River and so forth where there is lots of fish. But, again, chemistry side of things we leave to DEC as that’s their jurisdiction,” Kanouse said.

She said it’s up to the Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate the impact of the Palmer Projects on water quality.

Kyle Moselle, the Associate Director of DNR’s office of project management and permitting, says the environmental monitoring meets state standards. Both DNR and DEC found the application to be complete.

“They’re following a similar recipe that we expect from exploration projects in this phase in development,” he said.

“The monitoring data they have to support that is adequate. The application was found to be complete by both DNR and DEC.”

Permits will allow the company to move closer to realizing the promise of their Preliminary Economic Assessment, or PEA, report. But the PEA is for investors, not permitting bodies.

“It’s like a good trailer for a movie,” explained Moselle.

“It’s not something that we’re going to base a permit on. Keeping it very black and white, the PEA has no direct bearing on the permitting process.”

So while investors take a look at the potential earnings, Constantine is doing separate work to secure permits that will allow them to expand their mineral exploration operations. Moselle expects the DEC will reach a decision on the permits this month.

He says he’s reviewed every single comment that came in and will lead an inter-agency meeting this week to respond to what they’ve identified as the thirty or so most substantive issues. They will publish those responses with their decision.

Constantine Metal Resources continues exploration drilling and road work this summer. Liz Cornejo, Vice President of Community and External Affairs says if the permits are approved, they will also prepare the surface area for the expansion project.