A photo of the Palmer Project north of Haines provided to the Empire in 2019 by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. (Courtesy photo)

A photo of the Palmer Project north of Haines provided to the Empire in 2019 by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. (Courtesy photo)

State decision on Palmer mine project a win and a loss, environmentalists say

DEC issues waste management permit for exploratory drilling; plaintiffs weigh further challenge.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a waste management permit for exploratory drilling at the Palmer Project that, in a partial win for conservation groups challenging the project, requires DEC to ensure environmental standards are met, provide greater transparency of its work, and include public input as part of the process.

DEC Commissioner Jason Brune ruled in favor of division staff on three other issues in the decision released Aug. 18. The 18-page ruling said they didn’t follow the established process the first time and required them to do so going forward. The ruling stopped short, however, of requiring the project meet more stringent federal Clean Water Act requirements.

The appellants, which include Chilkat Indian Village and five environmental groups, are evaluating whether to appeal the decision. That would have to be done in state Superior Court within 30 days of the decision, according to Earthjustice lawyers and the vice president of the village.

The Palmer Project is a massive proposed underground mine located about 15 miles southeast by road of the Tlingit village of Klukwan and 35 miles northwest of Haines. The project has been around for decades, but the acquisition of Constantine Metals by American Pacific Mining Corp., which closed in November 2022, has given it new momentum. An April press release by the company noted a budget of $25.5 million.

Various permits connected to the project have been winding their way through DEC for several years, including one that resulted in approval of a mile-long tunnel big enough for commercial trucks that would run under a glacier.

This permit addresses waste management, said Olivia Glasscock, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represented Chilkat Indian Village, Lynn Canal Conservation, Takshanuk Watershed Council, Rivers Without Borders, Audubon Alaska and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council in the administrative appeal.

“We still think there are significant issues related to this project and this permit,” Glasscock said. “The overarching takeaway from the decision is that DEC needs to do more work — and show their work — on natural conditions-based water quality standards before the company can start operating under the permit.”

The effort, which began in 2019, was to better protect the Chilkat Valley’s fish and wildlife from proposed discharge. Environmentalists challenged DEC’s approval of the wastewater permit alleging the agency hadn’t met its own prescribed standards and the process hadn’t allowed public participation.

Jones P. Hotch Jr. vice president of Chilkat Indian Village, said they are reviewing the decision. He said it was a victory they had stopped the wastewater permit for the second time “in the last four years alone.” Meanwhile, DEC “upheld a dangerous and inadequate waste management permit that allows polluted water to be released onto our traditional lands and into waters that sustain our way of life.”

The Palmer Project is a joint venture between an operating subsidiary of American Pacific Mining and Dowa Metals & Mining Co. Ltd. The operating subsidiary, Constantine North Inc., is the manager-operator of the project with 41% ownership while Dowa, which is based in Japan, has a 59% stake. “Constantine,” also the name of the previous operating company, is being heard more often in association with the project.

The mining company’s $25.5 million budget is slated for permitting, surface exploration drilling, geotechnical drilling, construction of a camp, ongoing baseline environmental and site engineering work, and compliance, according to a press release. Its website shows it is actively seeking investors.

American Pacific Mining is a penny stock traded over the counter as USGDF, closing at 17.8 cents on Tuesday, Aug. 22.

• Contact Meredith Jordan at meredith.jordan@juneauempire.com or (907) 615-3190.

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