ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Nearly $150 million was spent on mineral exploration for primarily large mine opportunities in Alaska last year, officials said.

That figure is up from just more than $50 million in spending three and four years ago, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported Wednesday.

Mineral exploration spending reached a peak of $350 million per year in the late 2000s, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

There were 18 large exploration projects across the state for "every metal under the sun," said Curt Freeman, president of Fairbanks-based Avalon Development Corp.

"It was a pretty good year for exploration all the way around," Freeman said.

The high cost of operating in remote places often requires large and inherently complex projects to make economic sense. Alaska's six metal mines are all large operations, and the state does not have a mid-sized mine, Freeman said.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office is exploring a heavy mineral prospect it owns at Icy Cape on the Gulf of Alaska coast between Cordova and Yakutat.

The prospect of industrial-use minerals at the site is commercially viable, and the site contains significant quantities of in-demand minerals such as garnet, epidote and gold, said Karsten Eden, trust land office minerals and energy manager.

"Every sample has gold in it," Eden told the Alaska Miners Association convention in Anchorage Tuesday.

The focus of the exploration that began in 2017 was on beach sands, although work has shifted to deeper sediments. The next steps are compiling a resource evaluation while looking for a private partner for development, including building a port facility to handle supply shipments and mineral exports, Eden said.

"Gold you can always fly out," he said.

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Information from: (Anchorage) Alaska Journal of Commerce, http://www.alaskajournal.com

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