Gold dreams scrapped at Nome’s defunct mine

It’s been a long and unproductive road for the Rock Creek Mine — but now that its being liquidated, money will finally flow into the pockets of its current owner, Bering Straits Native Corporation.

Map taken from a NovaGold annual report filed with the
Map taken from a NovaGold annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The mine was originally owned by Canadian mining company NovaGold and operated by its subsidiary, Alaska Gold. It opened briefly in 2008 before shutting its doors just months later. In the two years of preproduction and the two months of actual production, the mine went more than $20 million over budget, lost two of its workers in a construction-related accident, and violated the Clean Water Act, resulting in over $800,000 in federal fines.

There was a glimmer of hope that the mine’s doors would reopen when Bering Straits bought it from NovaGold in 2012. CEO Gail Shubert told KNOM in an interview at the time of the purchase that they planned to bring the mine back into production, albeit on a much smaller scale.

“Economic development opportunities are few and far between in rural Alaska and given the fact that this mine site has already been developed that NovaGold put several hundred million dollars into developing this site we just really felt that it was a good opportunity and kind of our responsibility to look closely at it to see whether it couldn’t be made operational.”

At the time, Shubert hoped the mine could be an economic engine for the region.

“You know we want to be able to provide some jobs and other opportunities to our shareholders and descendants and other folks that live in region.”

But what they hoped would be a source of revenue for locals, turned out instead to be a continuation of clean up and reclamation. Now, its seems that along with ridding the land of toxins, Bering Straits will also be clearing out the facility’s interior.  A news release published by another Canadian mining company, Almaden Minerals, revealed that it was entering into an agreement with Bering Strait to purchase much of the mine’s equipment.

Muskoxen graze on reclaimed mine land. Photo courtesy Bering Straits Native Corporation.
Muskoxen graze on reclaimed mine land. Photo courtesy Bering Straits Native Corporation.

Over the span of two and a half years, Almaden will pay Bering Straits $6.5 million for the equipment. Jerald Brown, Bering Straits’ vice president of Nome operations, has been working on the sale for a little over a year and says the initial investment in the failed mine turned out to be quite profitable.

“We’ve actually recovered 100 percent of the purchase price to date without including the proceeds from selling this equipment so it actually was a very good investment decision that Gail Shubert worked on a negotiated.”

Along with the profitability of the purchase, Brown is optimistic that the land will eventually give back to Nomemites, though this time in a different way.

“The land will be reclaimed, in fact it already has been, and it will go back to being an area where people can go berry-picking and look at the muskox and everything they were doing before the mine was there.”

The mine’s minimally used equipment will be shipped south, where it will be put to work at a gold mine in Mexico.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

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