Exploratory drilling is resuming at a long-shuttered Canadian gold mine about 40 miles east of Juneau. Developers of the proposed New Polaris Mine said on Tuesday that they could one day use barges on the salmon-rich Taku River to supply the operation.
The New Polaris Gold Mine lies in a roadless area in British Columbia near the confluence of the Tulsequah and Taku rivers just a few miles upstream from the border.
Canarc Resources said on Tuesday it had received a permit from provincial regulators to resume exploratory work next spring.
The Vancouver-based company’s long-term vision for the British Columbia mine involves using the Taku River as its supply corridor, says Canarc President Garry Biles.
“If we did build a mine, and that’s some time in the future, there would be barging at that point for bringing bulk supplies to the mine,” Biles told CoastAlaska on Tuesday. “And I would estimate probably around 100 barge loads a year coming in from Juneau.”
That’s a big if. For now, equipment and crews will be flown in and out of Atlin, B.C.
The New Polaris Gold Mine hasn’t produced precious metal since the early 1950s. And previous attempts to restart mining in the 1990s fizzled after the company said it struggled attracting investors.
But with gold fetching more than $1,500 an ounce, the company projects a productive gold mine could pay for itself in less than two years.
Conservationists have raised concerns over proposals to ship freight on the Taku River. The salmon-rich river has shallow ridges making barges a potentially dangerous way to move freight.
The New Polaris is near the Tulsequah Chief Mine which has been leeching acidic runoff into the transboundary watershed for decades. The province recently scored a legal victory that tribes and conservationists hope could spur cleanup of the site.
A recent cross-border water sampling study taken by Alaska and British Columbia regulators found higher concentrations of heavy metals downstream from the Tulsequah Chief and New Polaris mine sites.
But Alaska regulators say none of the Taku River samples exceeded the state’s water quality standards on its side of the border.
If the New Polaris project applies for an environmental assessment, the state of Alaska would be consulted, Kyle Moselle, head of mine permitting for the state Department of Natural Resources wrote in an email.
But DNR was not involved in Canarc’s application for exploratory drilling.
“We did not review or comment on New Polaris’ recent exploration plan or associated authorizations from B.C.,” Moselle wrote.
Drilling crews are slated to begin work at New Polaris in May.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with links to the drilling permit issued by B.C. regulators and cross-border water sampling study.