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Alaska's Lake Clark National Park considers easements that could boost mining • Alaska Beacon

The National Park Service said Monday it would review two proposed easements in part of Lake Clark National Park requested by an Alaska Native corporation to convert a mineral exploration camp into an active mine.

The Park Service assessment is the latest in Cook Inlet Regional Inc.'s decades-long effort to develop a mineral deposit within the park's boundaries.

The mineral claim, called the Johnson Tract, covers about 21,000 acres on the west side of Cook Inlet, about 125 miles southwest of Anchorage. CIRI, a regional Native corporation based in Anchorage, acquired it in a land swap governed by a 1976 federal law. Cook Inlet land swap.

The deposit contains gold, silver, copper and other minerals.

The Park Service said it would review two possible easements on park lands: one for a transportation corridor to the Johnson Tract mining area and the other for a port at a place called Tuxedni Channel. The Cook Inlet Land Exchange of 1976 directs the Secretary of the Interior to grant such easements on land that is now part of Lake Clark National Park, the Park Service said.

CIRI has submitted its proposals for transportation and port easements, and the resource analysis will consider the activities the company would need for planning, design and permitting, the Park Service said.

A map shows Cook Inlet Region Inc.'s proposed locations for a transportation corridor and port that would allow development of the Johnson Tract mineral deposit. The Johnson Tract property, owned by CIRI, contains gold, silver and other minerals and has been explored since the 1980s. CIRI is seeking the conservation permits that would be needed to begin planning these access areas. (Map provided by National Park Service)

Public comments will be accepted until June 24, the Park Service said. The resource analysis is expected to be released in the fall and made available to the public for review, the Park Service said.

The Johnson Tract consists of two properties: the 11,342-acre South Tract, where CIRI owns both surface and subsurface rights, and the 9,600-acre North Tract, where CIRI owns only subsurface rights.

Although it was explored in the 1980s and 1990s, activities there were paused until CIRI signed a 10-year lease with Vancouver-based HighGold Mining Inc. in 2019 for further exploration. According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resource, HighGold announced in 2020 that the site contains an estimated 417,000 ounces of gold, as well as significant amounts of silver, copper, zinc and lead.

In May, Fairbanks-based Contango Ore announced the purchase of HighGold; the transaction is expected to close in July.

Contango is a part owner of the Manh Choh mining project. This project has sparked controversy because of plans to truck ore hundreds of miles from the mine southeast of Tok to a processing facility at Kincross Gold Corporation's Fort Knox mine northeast of Fairbanks. Kincross is the majority owner and operator of the Manh Choh mining project, which is located on land leased from the Tetlin Indian Village.

President and CEO of Contango is Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse. He was previously president and CEO of Trilogy Metals, a Vancouver-based company seeking to develop the Ambler copper mining district in Alaska's Arctic Northwest. That project includes another controversial transportation proposal, the 211-mile Ambler Access Project. This industrial access route would run through the southern foothills of the Brooks Range from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler mining district.

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