Over half of Nome’s OFFSHORE MINING leases are now owned by one company. Last month, Gold Leaf Placer announced the purchase of twenty-six mining leases from Placer Marine Holdings and its subsidiary, Placer Marine Mining.
Gold Leaf Placer’s General Manager Andrew Lee explains even though the physical area or boundaries of the Nome offshore leases have not changed, the details and ownership have. These leases expired in 2010, and the State of Alaska had to reissue them in 2011, which is the same year, Lee says, that AngloGold Ashanti purchased these leases for $5.5 million during a gold lease sale. AngloGold Ashanti is a company based in South Africa. The State of Alaska required them to have some sort of basis in Alaska. So AngloGold created Placer Marine Mining in order to legally claim these offshore mining leases in Nome.
For an undisclosed amount of money, Gold Leaf Placer directly bought Placer Marine Mining and acquired 56% of Nome’s offshore mining leases. Even though this means less leases are available for other miners in Nome, Lee says smaller mining operations needn’t worry.
“These leases start at 28 feet in water depth and extend to 70 feet, so small diver operated dredges aren’t really suitable to be mining these,” said Lee.
Nome City Manager Tom Moran says that, normally, the City would worry about smaller individual mining operations leaving Nome when they aren’t successful, but Gold Leaf’s lease purchase might put those worries at ease.
“I think with a company that owns such a substantial portion of the offshore leases, that’s not something we have to worry about anymore, that they’ll at least be around for a little while to give it a go,” said Moran.
With the lack of concern for how this lease purchase will affect smaller mining operations, there is still the potential that these mining leases will affect the underwater ecosystem, specifically the Alaskan King Crabs’ habitat. Charlie Lean has been a Fisheries Biologist for Norton Sound since 1981. He referenced an environmental study from part of those offshore leases done by West Gold Bima between 1987 and 1990. Lean said the survey found that “it could take about six years to get the same biomass, to get full size adult worms and clams, things that the crabs like to eat.”
Lean adds that the more mining activity that happens on these offshore leases, the more the King Crab’s habitat will be destroyed. But Lean has suggested a method to help prevent the negative impact on the crab fishery.
“Do like farmers do: have a rotation. Have a checkerboard zone on the bottom and assign each checker a date by which it would be mined, and have at least a six-year span on those checker squares,” said Lean.
Based on Lean’s knowledge of Andrew Lee and some of his partners at Gold Leaf Placer, he believes that they “wouldn’t intentionally mess up the crab fishery.” One of those partners and also the majority owner of Gold Leaf Placer is Rodger May, the CEO of Northwest Fish Company. May could not be reached directly for comment for this story, but a June 9th press release from Gold Leaf Placer emphasizes the importance of “viability, integrity, and reputation of Alaskan seafood.”
Gold Leaf Placer hopes to have these leases producing gold in the near future, potentially through contracting them out to other mining operations.