The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

The elephants in Alaska are everywhere!

Alfred Brooks was one of a series of geologists of monumental stature who has pointed the way to bring prosperity to Alaska

Alaska, like Canada to the east and Russia to the west, is well known for its elephantine mineral deposits. Recognition of those deposits surfaces regularly. Sometimes they are characterized by incredible production results, as in the case of Red Dog, Pogo and Fort Knox. Sometimes they are abandoned due to social factors to lie in wait for another day, as is the case with Brady Glacier, Misty Fiords and Chuitna.

All too often, those who identify a valuable mineral deposit are honored by their vision but deprived of the benefit. One such visionary was Alfred Brooks, who wandered around Alaska journalizing its unlimited potential, without paving his pockets.

Between 1899 and 1911, Brooks undertook six major reconnaissance expeditions in Alaska on behalf of the U.S. Geological Survey, mapping the topography and geology and defining patterns that are still important to today’s prospectors and miners. Much of his time was spent on the Seward Peninsula, and of that experience he wrote about the potential of the beaches of the coastal plain, an area that extends for many miles east of Nome.

Brooks wrote “[a]s these coastal plain deposits were laid down at the margin of the ocean, we should expect old sea beaches to be found in these gravels. If such beaches are found, they are likely to prove as rich as the present beach at Nome.”

Brooks believed, quite rightly, that the then-undeveloped technology could result in the efficient development of such deposits.

One instance, currently being examined, to prove this point is in the so-called Bonanza Channel that lies between Safety Sound and the Solomon River about thirty miles east of Nome.

Bonanza Channel is characterized by about 15,000 acres of shallow water and intermittent islands. The gold in the channel has been carried farther from the parent rock than is the case with most creek and gulch gold and should be much finer.

In the area of Bonanza Channel, there are four identifiable beaches which have been untouched by previous mining operations. The area is downhill from historic mining projects, so intuitively it is prospective. Because of the low hydrographic grade of the topography, the gold over millennia is likely to have become trapped behind the barrier islands that separate the channel from Norton Sound.

The host material in the Bonanza Channel is a uniform grade of rough sand and gravel and is open at depth. One estimate puts the grade at better than one ounce per ton. With the right equipment, operating efficiently, this deposit holds the potential Brooks described.

In broad general terms, the area is also characterized by a sparse population, a seasonally maintained road, state-patented open-to-entry land and migratory waterfowl. Few fish or game animals are resident in the channel area itself and, except for locals engaged in subsistence activities and birdwatching trekkers, there are few human visitors to be found there.

Like so many of Alaska’s other huge, valuable mineral deposits, the Bonanza Channel prospect is subject to public scrutiny, and Alaskans will be called upon to weigh whether the potential returns to the state in terms of taxes and royalties will justify the temporary disturbance of an extremely remote area.

The Alaska Statehood Act specifically contemplated that almost one-third of the land in Alaska would be available to the state for selection, on the premise that Alaska’s selections would include valuable natural resources that could be developed to justify entry of a thinly populated region into the Union.

Advocates for statehood didn’t recognize in 1959 that the low population density would be a sword that cuts with two blades. To most, it was an opportunity to locate the visible wounds of resource development over the horizon; however, for some, it has also proven to be a cause célèbre for large areas of the state to be transfixed in time.

In the case of the Bonanza Channel, barge-supported suction dredging is likely to be virtually invisible to any but the most hearty souls. State-of-the-art technology allows the operation to be compact, quiet, chemical free and capable of mining and reclaiming the mined area simultaneously.

This project has the potential for being remunerative to the state and financially beneficial to the region, while environmentally benign and consistent with contemporary state and national policy. It is one more Alaskan elephant ready to break free.

Disclosure: The author represents parties who may be interested in developing the resources to be found in the coastal plain of the Seward Peninsula.


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