KETCHIKAN, Alaska – A Canadian company is moving forward with plans for a new rare-earth metals mine at the end of Kendrick Bay on Prince of Wales Island, sending a team to drill and spending millions sampling rock and studying the area.
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The goal of Ucore's team is to answer questions from investors and government officials, including concerns about the mine's environmental impact in light of the collapse of a dam holding toxic mining waste in British Columbia this past month. The breach at the Mt. Polley Mine spilled millions of gallons of waste into pristine forest and waters.
Ucore director of environment Randy MacGillivray said he remains optimistic the company will be able to obtain permits, despite the recent breach of the dam holding tailings — the leftovers of the rock extracted and milled at a mine.
The incident was a huge disappointment, he said, but he was quick to point out that Ucore's own tailings, if the mine moves forward, would be pumped back underground as it was being extracted.
"That's one thing about this project," MacGillivray said. "With an underground mine, no tailings dam and backfilling a third of the rock again back underground, we're going to have a very small footprint here."
Should the project get going, Ucore would pull 3,300 tons per day from the mine. The ore would be milled at the site, and the leftover rock and tailings wouldn't be above ground for more than a few days, MacGillivray said.
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However, Ucore has yet to complete much of the state and federal environmental permitting process. Along with environmental considerations, there's another question left to answer: Will the mine make money?
Ucore is spending millions of dollars this summer to find out. The company has supplied the staff for a 26-person barge in Kendrick Bay to run drills, sample rock and study ground water to satisfy both economic and environmental studies of their claim. The land proposed to host the mine stretches 160 feet wide for just more than a mile from the bay-side face of Bokan Mountain down Dotson Ridge.
Ucore knows there are millions of tons of rare earth ore buried in the ridge. It knows the market price for the metals used in magnets, batteries and green technology. The work being done this summer is to determine whether it all adds up to a net gain for investors.
Ucore is most interested in the rare earth metals of dysprosium, europium and terbium.
"They're our suite (of products) that when you look at the price charts are worth exponentially more, and those are the ones that are obviously important to the economic model," MacGillivray said.
Ucore needs $221 million before a single rock is mined from the site, Ucore Chief Operations Officer Ken Collison said. The company is currently projecting that the current value of the resource is $577 million and estimates a running mine would employ 190 people.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com