Alaska Native tribe requests hearing over wastewater permit for large exploration project

The Palmer Project is a mineral exploration project, operated by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. near Haines, Alaska. (Constantine Metal Resources - image credit)
The Palmer Project is a mineral exploration project, operated by Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. near Haines, Alaska. (Constantine Metal Resources - image credit)

The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan is requesting the state of Alaska launch an adjudicatory hearing over a wastewater permit for a large exploration project.

The Vancouver-owned Palmer project is located roughly 56 kilometres northwest of Haines. Constantine Metal Resources wants to search for a mix of copper, silver, gold and zinc in an area measuring roughly 33,000 hectares.

The Tlingit take serious issue with the project.

Jones Hotch Jr., vice-president of the village, told CBC News traditions are at stake, adding a large volume of discharged water from an underground tunnel has the potential to pollute the otherwise intact Chilkat River Watershed, a vast area home to brown bears, salmon, moose and bald eagles.

"We won't have any more wild-stocked salmon ... all the berries we pick, even all the wild animals that feed off them," Hotch said.

"We know what's at stake, and even denying this request isn't gonna stop us from fighting for our way of life. We will always continue to fight for it."

Hotch said the reason for the village's appeal to the state is to ensure future generations grow up with their culture, to know who they are.

"It's almost like a sacred duty to be able to pass it on," he said.

Constantine Metals declined comment.

The company is slated to be acquired by another Vancouver company, American Pacific Mining. That process is expected to be finalized by the end of next month.

"At that time, management will be able to provide you with a more comprehensive discussion," said Adam Bello, media relations manager, in an email.

State department denies request 

This isn't the first time the Chilkat Indian Village has broached concerns with the state.

The issue dates back to 2019, when Alaska granted a wastewater permit to the company. This prompted an evaluation of potential risks and a public comment period.

Hotch said concerns centre around Glacier Creek, a sacred site located near the drainage system. He said wastewater could enter it.

Last month, the village filed its request for a hearing as well as a stay on a decision to approve a revised wastewater system design, arguing it will "suffer irreparable harm."

Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation denied both requests.

The village's concerns aren't off the table, though.

According to a decision document from department commissioner Jason Brune's office, the matter has been remanded to the water division, which was originally tasked with assessing potential wastewater risks.

The division now has until Oct. 6 to review whether revisions to the system "might result in an increase in emissions or discharges, or might cause other detrimental environmental impacts," the document states.

Brune told CBC News the goal is to get things right.

"We do things to ensure that water quality is maintained," he said. "We want to make sure we're giving the proponents and our staff the time to do the science to find out impacts.

"We're not rushing anything forward on this one. We're doing the right thing."