NovaMinerals continues exploration at major gold project in western Mat-Su; environmental groups now target access to the region
Tim Bradner, The Frontiersman, December 7, 2022
NovaMinerals is continuing an aggressive exploration program at its gold project west of Skwentna, in the western Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The company plans 30,000 feet of new drilling in 2023, according to information on its website, as well as a start on a pre-feasibility study for mine development, which is an important step. The pre-feasibility study is the first point at which costs, production volumes and potential revenues are spelled out.
The project is important to the Mat-Su Borough because it holds the promise of adding an industrial tax base for the borough, which is now largely dependent on residential property taxes for revenues. However, owners of remote recreational sites in the area have raised concerns along with conservation groups.
NovaMinerals has been working at the location since 2018, with $30 million invested in 85,000 feet of drilling and other work accomplished to date. So far about 9.6 million ounces of gold resources have been identified. Of this, about 3 million ounces are indicated, meaning they are shown by closely-spaced drilling, and 6 million ounces are inferred indirectly, from more widely-spaced drilling.
The project is on about 200 square miles of state mining leases held by NovaMinerals near the existing Whiskey Bravo airstrip, which is capable of landing DC-3 aircraft. It is connected to Willow, on the Parks Highway, by winter road.
There are two prospects being explored that are about 20 miles apart. Korbel, at the north, is the more explored with about 3 million ounces of indicated gold resource and 5.1 million ounces of inferred. The RPM prospect, in the south, has an estimated 1.5 million ounces of inferred resources. Some of the mineralization at RPM begin about five feet below surface.
Both the RPM and Korbel prospects are “open” in all directions, meaning the boundaries both ore bodies are not yet established. NovaMinerals has established the presence of 21 distinct gold prospects between the Korbel and RPM finds.
Meanwhile, conservation groups and other opponents to the NovaMinerals project are zeroing in on a proposed industrial access road to the, an echo of what is happening with the Ambler Access Project in the western Brooks Range.
The West Susitna Access Project is a proposed 100-mile industrial road to that would connect the mine, if it is built, to the Mat-Su Borough’s Port MacKenzie on Upper Cook Inlet. The road became controversial when owners of recreation properties near its route of the road raised objections. Environmental groups are now joining in the opposition.
For the mining opponents the point of attack for both the West Susitna and Amber access projects, in northern Alaska, is over the role of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, the state development corporation in financing the development. AIDEA is working on both roads. On West Susitna, AIDEA has environmental and permitting work for the road is now under way.
A recent report criticizing the AIDEA’s work on the road and other economic development projects was commissioned by Salmon State, a conservation group that is also prominent in the fight against the proposed Pebble mine.
AIDEA, which is charged under state law with facilitating industrial and economic development, will be commissioning its own analysis in response to the Salmon State report.
West Susitna has a public purpose that is broader than just facilitating the NovaMinerals project, however. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has signed on as an informal partner with AIDEA in the project because the road, if built, would open public access for recreation and other economic development in the western half of the borough that is currently inaccessible.
Planning for the West Susitna access road has also been underway for years, with the Department of Natural Resources carrying out the early conceptual studies. It was only recently that the project was taken over by AIDEA.