The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly had a relatively short meeting Monday night, and spent most of those 90 minutes discussing a proposed rare-earth processing facility.
Canada-based Ucore Rare Metals Inc., which owns the Bokan-Dotson Ridge mine site on Prince of Wales Island, is interested in building a processing facility at about Mile 10 North Tongass Highway.
Ucore spokesman Randy MacGillivray told the assembly that the company is not developing the mine now. They want to build the mill, ship purchased rare earth materials here, and separate those elements to sell. After building a profit, he said, they’ll be able to invest that into the POW mine.
Rare earth elements are used in technology such as cell phones and electric vehicles. MacGillivray said some rare earth elements are radioactive.
“The feedstocks we’re looking at, however, have to be shipped here. There are tight regulations on the shipping of … naturally occurring radioactive material,” he said. “We’re very cognizant of that. So the feedstocks we’re looking at to bring to Ketchikan are extremely low in thorium and uranium.”
MacGillivray said any potentially harmful waste from processing will not be stored in Southeast Alaska.
“If it turns out that it’s regulated material, it has to be handled specially, then it would be shipped away appropriately to a regulated landfill,” he said.
He said non-harmful waste rock could be used for other purposes, such as fill.
MacGillivray said the process involves the use of acid. For some of the feedstock, there will be some crushing required, but that would take place indoors.
Assembly members told MacGillivray that they had received numerous phone calls from concerned members of the public. The site proposed for the facility is zoned heavy industrial, but there are houses nearby.
Assembly Member Alan Bailey suggested that Ucore consider the Gravina Island industrial complex. He said it’s on the water, right next to the airport, and the borough is improving the docks there to handle commercial activity.
MacGillivray said they would love to learn more, but they’d need that information quickly.
“We’re in the due diligence period over the parcel that we’ve made an offer on,” he said. “That is meant to be finalized early in the new year. So, we’d be looking at new information as soon as possible.”
He said they hope to start operations by 2020. The facility would hire about a dozen people initially, building to about 24. MacGillivray said many of those jobs could be filled locally with on-the-job training.
Also Monday, the assembly approved a resolution establishing criteria for waiving zoning fees for after-the-fact permit applications. After-the-fact fees are charged on top of regular permit fees if a property owner has completed a project before receiving a needed permit.
Through the resolution, a waiver of after-the-fact fees will be allowed if the violation happened before the current owner took control of the property, and the violation was not disclosed before purchase.
The next assembly meeting is Nov. 19.