Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: USFWS)
A Canadian based mining company, as part of their proposal to develop a vertically integrated mine located 37 miles north of Nome at the base of the Kigluaik Mountains, has been granted permission by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to divert up to 130,000 gallons of water per day from several creeks and ponds without requiring the company to obtain a permit. The mining project, known as the “Graphite Creek” Project, would involve the processing and manufacture of high grade coated spherical graphite primarily for lithium-ion electric batteries, with the intention to capitalize on a potential supply crunch from China and a growing appetite for electric vehicles. However, the project has raised concerns among Alaska Native Tribes due to the potential impacts on their subsistence resources.
In response to the Graphite Creek mining exploration activities, the Tribes formed the Imuruck Basin Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (IBITWC) to address water and subsistence related issues. The council is concerned about the impacts of the water withdrawals on fish and wildlife habitat and is closely monitoring the situation.
Between 2018 and 2020, the IBITWC took several actions to protect Tribal subsistence resources. One of the actions taken by the council was to send a letter to the Nome Office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) requesting that they amend the Habitat Permit to ensure adequate flows for salmon in the creeks affected by the Tribes' Water Use Authorizations (TWUAs). The council pointed out that the ADF&G Permit and the TWUAs decision require the agency to take action to limit potential impacts to salmon and other species that may occur under the TWUAs decision.
ADF&G responded to the council's letter, stating that they believe the mining company's activities "will not impact the fish in Hot Springs Creek." However, this conclusion was reached without collecting any data on the creek nor visiting the site. During a hearing last fall, Sen. Don Olson stated that, "If the community does not want this mine, it should not go through."
Given the concerns raised by the council, the IBITWC requested that Sen. Olson take whatever measures he can to encourage the DNR, ADF&G, and/or the mining company to work with the Tribes to protect salmon habitat in the creeks and preserve vital subsistence resources. The IBITWC continues to closely monitor this project and coordinate the response by the Tribes.
There is an update on this project. Learn more
P.O. Box 15332, Fritz Creek, AK 99603