An exploration company prospecting for gold on Ester Dome has disclosed that it is emphasizing Treasure Creek and other sites in greater Fairbanks after neighbors complained about the activities.
Felix Gold Limited, an Australian company with a Fairbanks office, announced in a statement posted to social media that it still has a long-term interest in the Fairbanks area. The company will first explore other sites for minerals in the historic mining district, according to the statement.
“I don’t think they are abandoning the Ester Dome area. That does not seem to be the case at all,” said Greg Beischer, chief executive officer of Millrock Resources, which is partnering with Felix Gold Alaska for the exploration.
Millrock Resources was alerted about the decision by Felix Gold to withdraw Ester Dome area lands from its mineral lease application, Beischer said Thursday in an interview with the News-Miner. Beischer said that protests by neighbors influenced the outcome.
“Personally, I would have preferred that Felix proceed with the Ester Dome project for a more cohesive land pattern,” Beischer said. “But I understand their hesitancy, given the vocal positions expressed.”
At issue are plans by Felix Gold Alaska to lease thousands of acres from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority for mineral exploration in the Fairbanks area.
The wooded areas cover Ester Dome, Murphy Dome and the Cleary Summit area. The three sites are within the Fairbanks Mining District, which has grown over the years into a rural residential community of single family homes and small farms.
“They (Felix Gold) are the decision makers on what goes on and which claims are maintained,” Beischer said. “Millrock had staked those claims and formed an agreement and option with the third parties. We assigned those rights to Felix Gold, who is now the public face of exploration activities.”
Dave Larimer, vice president of exploration for Felix Gold, wrote in the statement that “we removed all Mental Health Trust lands on Ester Dome from our lease application with the trust.”
The signed letter was posted Tuesday to a Facebook community group called “Ester, Alaska.”
Larimer is a geologist. He did not return requests Thursday for comment on the change.
Monique Musick, who posted Larimer’s statement along with a map on Facebook, said: “Felix Gold has officially withdrawn the Mental Health Trust land around Ester Dome area from its lease application.”
Musick’s post had received 117 “Likes” by early Thursday afternoon.
She also posted: “Note they do still have the options on the remaining claims on AK State land around Ester Dome [outlined in blue], but are not executing any physical work on the ground at this time.”
Beischer confirmed there is no exploration activity underway now. But he said he is hopeful that Felix Gold will resume the work soon.
“Together with Felix, a lot of surface sampling work was done over the summer,” Beischer said. “And we were pleased with the results of that work.”
Pollution and traffic impacts raised
Residents had organized and protested the mining exploration plans since this summer, including at public meetings at the Ken Kunkel Center, off Goldstream Road.
They cited potential impacts to the woodlands and trails used for hiking and skiing. They also raised concerns about truck traffic and pollution risks to air and groundwater.
In his prepared statement, Larimer wrote that Felix Gold had heeded the concerns of Ester Dome neighbors, including complaints that the timeline for public comment was insufficient.
“Felix Gold has taken these comments and has conducted a strategic evaluation of this land. In our view, while the AK Mental Health Trust land around Ester Dome is extremely prospective for discovery of an economically viable mineral resource, we value the communities closest to these areas and their input.”
The Mental Health Trust Authority said in an email Thursday that Felix Gold has provided updated information regarding its mineral lease application and that the information is being considered as the authority finalizes a “best interest decision.”
An amended application does not trigger a new review process, the authority said.
More than 500 people had sent comments to the authority. The authority’s “trust land office continues to diligently review and consider the mineral lease proposal submitted by Felix Gold, which includes the review of the comments received during the public comment period,” said Allison Biastock, chief communications officer at the authority.
She said the authority expects to issue a final decision next week on the mineral lease.
Exploration drilling at Treasure Creek
In October, Felix Gold, partnering with Millrock, will initiate exploratory drilling at Treasure Creek, Beischer said.
The Treasure Creek site is another historic mining area, but is not among the parcels owned by the Mental Health Trust Authority.
“This is the first drilling that Felix Gold will undertake since coming into possession of the mineral rights. But there has been drilling in the area that dates back to the 1990s,” Beischer said.
The Treasure Creek area is the site of an existing drift mine south of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) and west of Treasure Creek.
Gold was first discovered in the area in the early 1900s. Drift mining took place in the 1990s, above the mouth of Independence Creek, according to the U.S. Geological Service.
Millrock has obtained a plan of operations approval permit and filed a letter of intent for the Treasure Creek project, said Dave Charron, a geologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The plan of operations approval authorizes exploration activities and “surface uses of the mining leases and mining claims associated with the project,” said Charron, program manager in DNR’s Division of Mining, Land & Water in Fairbanks.
The most recent public comment period for the Treasure Creek plan of operations was July 7-22, he said. State approval was issued on Aug. 6.
“Please note that the plan of operations approval is for activities and surface uses on mining leases and mining claims in which the mineral rights (property interest) have already conveyed to the lessees and claim locators,” Charron said.
Price incentives for exploration, investment
Initial drilling at Treasure Creek will extend for 30 meters below the earth’s surface, said Beischer of Millrock Resources.
Mineral discoveries often are made after several tries, in part because of improved technologies. The rising price of metals increases incentives for investment and more exploration, Beischer said.
“Felix Gold might collect samples at one- or two-meter intervals with 10 or 15 samples per hole,” Beischer said. “These are state mining claims on state-owned lands.”
Larimer said in the prepared statement that Felix Gold will keep the public informed of plans for exploration work in the area.
The company said it will soon have a website online for information and invited the public to email questions to Contact_Us@FelixGold.com.au.