A resolution allowing the Matanuska Susitna Borough to participate in studies of a possible 100-mile resource access road opening up western part of the borough passed the assembly 6-1 June 16.
Assemblywoman Tam Boeve cast the lone dissenting vote on Resolution 20-066, on the West Susitna Access Project. Two amendments made by Assemblyman Tim Hale were made to ensure planning would incorporate public access to a road and that fisheries and cultural or historic artifacts would be protected.
Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited expressed concern about opening the region during the meeting.
If built, a road could support development of a possible gold mine in the Yentna Mining District, which is within the borough. An Australian company is now exploring a discovery there.
The project would open a third of the borough’s 26,000-square -mile area to year-around access, and would aid resource development, allow people to reach recreation areas more easily and help in fire suppression, Assemblyman Ted Leonard said.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state development finance corporation, is leading the project in cooperation with Nova Minerals, an Australia-based minerals company exploring a major gold prospect.
“They’ve asked us to work with them to help keep the public informed. It’s how public-private partnership should work,” Leonard said. “This just brings us to the table to be part of the discussion. The borough has no money in this,” he said.
“The borough needs this information to know whether natural resources can be developed. We need to develop an industrial tax base, and not just be a bedroom community for Anchorage,” Leonard said.
Alan Weitzner, Interim director of AIDEA, said “This is very much in an early stage of development work. We want to work directly with the Mat-Su Borough so the public is aware of this at an early stage,” of what’s planned, he said.
Phase two builds on early work done in 2019 during phase one of the project and involves gathering more information on a preferred route along with information on wetlands and an initial cost estimate.
Two bridges will be needed, one across the Little Susitna River and another crossing the Susitna itself.
The work is budgeted at $410,000 with AIDEA and the mining company contributing $155,000 each so far plus another $15,000 for contingencies.
The remaining funds still have to be raised, but Weitzner expects it to come from other private sources with an interest in the area.
Leonard said the borough previously set aside $1.5 million toward the Susitna River crossing. The money is being held for that purpose, he said.
Two routes were considered in 2019 during the preliminary review in phase one. One was a northern corridor starting at the borough’s Port MacKenzie and extending west to the Little Susitna and Susitna rivers, and then to the Yethna Mining District where Nova Minerals is working.
A possible southern route was also considered in phase one that would start at Ladd Landing on Cook Inlet but environmental challenges were identified which appear to now make the northern route the preferred option.
Leonard said the borough prefers this because the existing dock at Port MacKenzie can be used while the southern route would require a new dock to be built at Ladd Landing, which would be a major project. Ladd Landing is also within the Kenai Borough and Leonard said he prefers the project to be entirely within Mat-Su.
Weitzner said AIDEA’s board must still approve phase two and the remaining funds must be secured but he hopes to see the project mobilized in July and with work completed by the end of the year.
Chris Gerteisen, manager of AK Operations LLC, subsidiary of Nova Minerals, said his company is now exploring gold mineralization discovered last year in initial work by the company. Nova Resoures staked mining claims in 2016 and 2017 in the area and brought a drill rig to the site last year to do preliminary exploration.
Based on that initial work the company estimated an “inferred” resource, a very early estimate, of 2.5 million ounces of gold at one prospect. Further drilling and analysis is needed to refine the estimate, so this winter the company built a snow road and brought two more rigs to the site and also constructed a 20-man field camp, which is located at an airstrip built more than a decade ago by another company. There are 15 to 18 people now working at the location, Gerteisen said.
Although he has worked in mining all over the world Gerteisen is from Alaska and graduated high school at West High School in Anchorage. He also lived in Palmer.
Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nova Minerals has mining operations in Australia as well as in Manitoba, in Canada.