2016 is a milestone year for miners

  • The Greens Creek mine near Juneau had record silver production in 2015 and is on track for another record in 2016 as its parent company Hecla Mining Co. celebrates 125 years in business. The state’s flagship gold mines Pogo and Fort Knox near Fairbanks are marking 10 years and 20 years, respectively, this year as well. (Photo/File/AJOC)
  • Fort Knox mine poured its seven-millionth ounce earlier this year and is now in its 20th year of operations. Both will be recognized at the annual Alaska Miners Association convention on Nov. 11.

Alaska’s miners will have an opportunity to look back at the progress of three of the state’s flagship mines at the annual Alaska Miners Association convention that kicks off Nov. 6 in Anchorage.

This year is a milestone year for the mining industry in Alaska; it marks the 10th anniversary of operations at the Pogo underground mine and the 20th year of production at the Fort Knox surface mine. Both located near Fairbanks, they are the state’s premier gold mines.

In addition, Hecla Mining Co., which owns the underground Greens Creek silver mine near Juneau, just celebrated its 125th birthday. At 26 years old, Greens Creek is not a young mine, but with record production of 8.5 million ounces of silver in 2015, it remains the largest active silver mine in the country and one of the most productive in the world under Hecla’s guidance.

Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett said she is particularly looking forward to Nov. 11, a day of the convention that will be devoted to highlighting the achievements of the trio and reminiscing about stories and events that have led to the anniversaries.

“On the day that we talk Pogo, Fort Knox and Hecla we’re actually only having one (discussion) track because we know that the vast majority of our attendees are all going to want to go to that,” Crockett said.

A few days prior, new Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth will headline the convention’s speakers on Nov. 8 with an hour-long dialogue likely on a host of topics.

Crockett said the Alaska Miners Association was “incredibly excited” to hear of Lindemuth’s appointment as Alaska’s top attorney by Gov. Bill Walker in late June because she came to the position from the private sector and has significant experience handling resource development matters.

Lindemuth’s talk will undoubtedly include the state’s decision to establish a framework for transferring land owned by Alaska Native tribes into federal trust status. Walker has directed her to lead the state’s involvement in the complicated and sensitive issue that could have far-reaching implications for resource work in the state.

“How resource development projects are impacted by decisions that come out of the Native lands into trust issue and the status of those lands — it’s a major issue to watch for us and so finding out how the state plans to navigate that will be useful for pretty much all Alaskans,” Crockett said.

She added, “The attorney general is so instrumental in the litigation that comes against resource development permits and the consistent federal overreach that we’re dealing with that I don’t expect to have any shortage of topics for her to address.”

Following Lindemuth by a day will be Murray Hitzman, head of the Energy and Minerals division of the U.S. Geological Survey, discussing the future of the agency in the state.

Crockett noted that anyone interested in resource development should want the USGS to be active in Alaska — continuing to map the vast state and delineate its resources — fundamental activities that the State of Alaska cannot afford to support as it deals with multi-billion dollar budget deficits.

Finally, miners cannot gather without talking about their prospects. While exploration for large projects in the state has dipped in recent years for several reasons, one of the bright spots for the industry is Constantine Metal Resources’ Palmer project in Southeast Alaska near Haines, a high-grade copper, zinc, silver and gold deposit that would be an underground operation if developed.

Constantine announced in September that it began construction of a 2.5-mile road to the project as it wrapped up its 2016 exploration drilling program that included seven drill sites.

“(Constantine’s) healthy drilling season should provide a lot more results and we should get an update as to what we can expect out of that project, so that’s very exciting,” Crockett said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/02/2016 - 12:42pm