Developer: Ucore Rare Metals Inc.
Location: Prince of Wales Island, AlaskaTwo Page Overview of Project (.PDF, 291kb)
Lookout across the beautiful Prince of Wales Island, located in the southeast panhandle of Alaska. But amongst all its grandeur, you will discover the mining operations at Bokan Mountain. The Canadian mining company Ucore Rare Metals has already begun rare earth element (REE) mining activity here. This project will extract 5.3 million tons of REEs, namely dysprosium, terbium and yttrium, from the largest rare earth deposit in the U.S. over its 11 - 15 year lifespan. Additionally, the project area stretches across 9,500 acres of federal mining claims in the Tongass National Forest, along with 640 acres of state mining claims Ucore, 2013).
The economy in this region has been historically supported by the timber and fish industries, however, both have seen little to no growth in recent years. Located about 33 miles northwest of Bokan Mountain Mining Project sits the small town of Hydaburg, which is the closest municipality to the mining project. Unemployment levels in this area were 16 percent in 2016 during the off-season winter months were between 10-12 percent during the fishing season (DLWD, 2017).
Throughout the 1950s and 1970s, Bokan Mountain was the location of the Ross-Adams Uranium Mine, where approximately 94,500 tons of uranium ore were excavated. These operations were responsible for the contamination of soils and waste rock. Now, this location has been designated as a Superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) (Forest Service).
Who is affected by Bokan Mountain?
In part because Bokan Mountain is a Superfund site being remediated for prior environmental degradation due to mining, opponents of the proposed mining project are wary of future environmental issues caused by mining. Local indigenous groups are strong opponents of the mine as they are concerned about the environment upon which they rely for food and traditional practices as well as possible changes to the mining permitting process that could loosen environmental regulations of mining (PRI, 2013).
Bokan Mountain is supported by the state of Alaska because tax revenue from mining projects fund state employees and education and Ucore claims the mine will provide 200 jobs over its 10 year operating period. However, in addition to their environmental concerns, locals worry that the jobs created by Bokan Mountain will be outsourced to non-locals and not contribute to the local economy (Brehmer, 2016).
As of late-2017, Ucore had not begun extraction and appeared to still be in the process of development. Unfavorable market conditions for REE extractors have also delayed project completion (Brehmer, 2016).
The proposed open-pit copper and gold Pebble Mine is located in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska. This area is known for its immaculate salmon spawning waters, and thus raised a large amount of controversy over whether or not a mine should be located in this region. Due to the large amount of attention that Pebble Mine has amassed, it is suspected that attention was divereted away from Bokan Mountain Mine (EarthJustice, 2018).