Mining company Nome Gold Alaska has formally opened its doors, and agenda, to Nome residents for the first time. The company called a public meeting to share plans for a placer mining operation near Dry Creek earlier this month.
The plan is a controversial one. Dry Creek is close to central Nome, and part of the proposed mining area would border Greg Kruschek Avenue — near the Nome Recreation Center and public safety building.
The claim’s proximity has raised concerns from residents about the impact of dust, noise and industrial activity in an area that’s near homes, businesses and recreation sites. Nome resident Sue Steinacher attended the open-house meeting, and said her concerns are two-fold.
“There’s the potential impacts on the people who live here – from dust, from noise,” Steinacher said. “That and the fact that the company is under constant scrutiny. To bring this right into the center of town disrupts everyone’s quality of life, and it puts them under a microscope.”
She alluded to the rocky history between Nome residents and the mining company’s recent predecessor. In 2011, Nome Gold — a Canadian-owned company with Russian investors — purchased 11,500 acres in mining claims from Alaska Gold Company.
However, another Canadian company of similar name — Nova Gold, which purchased Alaska Gold — is responsible for the failed Rock Creek Mine that Steinacher describes as a “black eye” on Nome’s recent history. The project left a freshly constructed road and shuttered facilities in its wake, and seems to have made a lasting impression on both residents and city officials.
At a meeting of the Nome City Council on Monday, council members discussed tools available to the city when it comes to holding Nome Gold accountable for the proposed Dry Creek venture. Councilman Stan Anderson asked if the city had existing drilling or noise ordinances at its disposal — or if one could be developed in the future.
“I have nothing against mining, but when it’s going to be in my front and back yard then I do have a problem with it,” Anderson said.
Steinacher also voiced the need for a guarantee — that Nome Gold will be minimally intrusive in its operations, and won’t leave another incomplete project behind.
“I am concerned,” said Steinacher. “I think that it is very easy to say at this stage: ‘We’re going to reclaim it and it’s going to look great.’ Those are all wonderful ideas, but you’re not going to get that in writing. There’s absolutely no guarantee of what you’ll get when they’re done.”
“Well, we have to do it or we don’t mine. We’re put out of business,” said Cecil Conner, Nome Gold’s general manager. “But that’s not going to happen because we’re going to make sure we take care of our land.”
Conner said that when it comes to project accountability, the company is held to strict standards dictated by the Army Corps of Engineers (and other state and federal agencies). But he acknowledges that local trust is another matter — and says this month’s open-house signals a shift in the company’s approach to community outreach.
“We want to be a part of the community,” said Conner. “We want to be a friend to the community, not a foe.”
Indeed, the mining company is not without local supporters. Nome Gold employee Kody Cannaday said in a written statement that he’s grateful for the paycheck the company provides, adding: “Nome Gold has a big positive impact on the local businesses.”
Others may remain skeptical, but Steinacher says — when it comes to Dry Creek — she hopes community members will continue to speak up…whether they’re for or against.
“Maybe this isn’t really a sound project and shouldn’t be done. But maybe it’s going to be done. But the more scrutiny it gets the more concerns that are expressed, the better it will make that project in the long run.”
Nome Gold is still in the permit-seeking stage of development for Dry Creek, but could begin mining as early as 2016.