A bill introduced Wednesday by Senator Lisa Murkowski would permit roads to be built on inventoried roadless land, providing land access to two proposed mines on Prince of Wales Island.
The bill calls for building 26 miles of road –18 through roadless areas — to Niblack mine, and another 50 miles of road to the Bokan Mountain mine.
Without road access, workers would travel to the job sites by boat or plane.
Murkowski said Southeast Alaska is in dire need of new job opportunities, and the mines would lead to hundreds of new jobs. She said roads would make it easier for employees to get to work.
A Southeast-based environmental group disagrees. Prince of Wales Island resident Bob Claus, who works for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the bill is unnecessary because the roadless rule doesn’t prohibit new roads to access mining claims.
“The road project itself seems to be unneeded as well,” he said. “The mines aren’t up and running, they’re just in the permitting phase, there’s speculation as to whether they would ever start running. And this is a really inefficient way to transport people or goods across these primitive road systems that would require maintenance year round when they already have easy marine access to the Ketchikan side.”
Murkowski’s announcement states that weather could make marine crossings dangerous. Claus said that applies to land crossings, too.
“If it’s dangerous to take a boat across, then it will be doubly dangerous to drive on a lane-wide logging road through the mountains for 40 miles,” he said.
Randy MacGillivray, spokesman for Ucore, the Canadian company that is developing Bokan, says road access would be good for the mine. He said it would help with local hire opportunities, and would reduce transportation costs. A road also could help with future power needs.
“A road corridor would certainly provide excellent access to be able to one day look at lining the road with power poles,” he said.
MacGillivray said marine access works, but a road would be more reliable, especially in the winter.
Niblack is a gold, copper, zinc, and silver deposit; and Bokan is a rare-earth elements mine. The Bokan mine alone anticipates a workforce of up to 200.