Niblack Mine officials and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough have a couple of years to determine whether the former Seley lumber mill on Gravina Island could become an ore processing facility.

The Borough Assembly on Monday approved an agreement with Niblack to assess the site. Niblack CEO Patrick Smith spoke to the Assembly, and said the proposed mine on Prince of Wales Island has reached the “advanced exploration” stage.

He said if Niblack starts mining ore, the company would prefer to process it locally, rather than ship it south.

“When we started looking and started talking about that concept, several entities, people and organizations came to us,” he said. “We heard from Sealaska, we heard from Ketchikan Gateway Borough – made a very good presentation to us on the Gravina Island Industrial Complex site – and Alaska State Mental Health Trust Lands have some property over by Leask Lakes area. So we’ve looked at probably five, six, seven areas over the last five months.”

Smith said the Gravina site appears to be the best of those available. He said the assessment would determine how suitable the Gravina site would be.

Smith said the raw ore would be brought from Prince of Wales, crushed, and floated in chemicals to extract the desired minerals.

“And then you have the tailings as well that you dispose of in a containment area, and that has to be sufficient and safe and all the rest of it,” he said. “So that, probably when you get right down to it, that’s probably the most important aspect that you get right, obviously. If you can’t get it right at this site, the site doesn’t work and you have to go somewhere else.”

Smith said the processing facility could offer up to 80 new jobs in Ketchikan. The Assembly approved the agreement unanimously, and with little discussion.

Also on Monday, the Assembly voted down a motion that would have taken back about $55,000 that had been added to the Animal Protection Department. The Assembly did, however, put a hold on the money until the department submits a plan for how the funds will be used.

Assembly Member Glen Thompson wanted to remove the funds.

“I’d really like to see a plan that lays out what our goals and objectives are for that department,” he said. “This knee-jerk reaction came as a result of a desire to protect animals in the community and has to do with puppy mills and animal establishments, and there’s nothing in the record that indicates that we’re going to be having any focus on that or anything that’s measurable to come back.”

The extra funding was the result of public concern over a case in which numerous animals were removed from a home for alleged inadequate care. The extra funds would allow the department to hire another animal control officer.

Assembly Member Bill Rotecki said he, too, wants a plan, but he doesn’t want to remove the funding right away. He said staff hasn’t had time since the last meeting to come up with a solution.

“Maybe funding immediately was a knee-jerk reaction, but I would say that defunding also is a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “I think I’m not opposed to taking the money away, but I’d like to see staff given an opportunity to produce us a plan that shows the money would be effective before I vote for this reduction.”

Animal Protection Director Kelly Ludwig-Johnson said she can do an analysis of the shelter’s needs, but the bottom line is that the facility is inadequate. She said that she rearranged the office space to provide additional room for staff, and extended the time that animals are kept before they are euthanized.

“The animals really are our No. 1 concern right now,” she said. “Maybe I need to rethink keeping them longer because it does take more staff time. Prior directors only kept animals on average 10 days, and we’ve been keeping them on average 20, which means you have a lot more interaction with them.”

Also on Monday, the Assembly agreed in second reading to place a $5.5 million school bonds proposition on the Oct. 2nd municipal ballot.

If approved, the bonds would help pay for capital improvement projects at various Ketchikan School District facilities. The district is working with the state Department of Education and Early Development to see how many of those projects qualify for a 70-percent reimbursement grant.