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Mining development: like 'building a city': Calista Corp. has been long involved in natural resource development, and mining operations have or will provide jobs to shareholders-everything from cement work, to engineering, to warehousing.

Calista Corp. has had an eye toward mineral exploration and development from the earliest days of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act land selection process. In the early 1970s, when land was being selected to fulfill ANCSA land entitlements, Calista first worked with all the 56 villages that were eligible for land conveyances in the region, assisting them to meet their land-selection deadlines. These land selections were based chiefly on access to subsistence resources and traditional use areas, but some of the Calista villages also selected land with mineral potential. When the village land selections were finalized, Calista then turned to the task of making its regional land selections, which were based on data from a multiyear, region-wide geochemical survey that Calista commissioned to identify areas of mineral potential within the region, and from limited data collected by companies conducting petroleum exploration in the region.


Calista recognized very early in the land-selection process that resource development had the potential to create employment opportunities for local residents. This commitment to building a regional economy led the corporation to put one or more geologists on the corporate land-management staff, beginning in the mid- 1980s, and also recruit a geologist from among its shareholders so that in-house geological expertise would be preserved within the company. Because of that early commitment, Calista has been in the field, exploring and promoting mineral properties on its lands and within the region ever since, and has been able to participate and contribute to mineral projects now being advanced by other companies.


This early interest in subsurface resources created within the corporation an in-house knowledge of the regional geology and coupled that knowledge with a good understanding of the early mining history of the region. Although early Russian explorers noted the presence of mineral resources in the region as early as the 1830s, most discoveries were made between 1909 and 1913 by prospectors passing through the region after the Nome gold rush.


Placer gold mining in the region continued at various scales since those first discoveries were made. Following its incorporation, Calista made an effort to establish and maintain working relationships with local and former mine workers who were interested and knowledgeable about the geology and mineral occurrences in the region. In fact, mineral development is a complex interplay of society, history, science, investigation and technology. Although the capital to import equipment and construct mines came from outside the region and usually from the Lower 48 states, local residents could find cash-earning work at the mines or moving freight to them. As a result of these interactions, some villages had histories and families with close ties to the region's mines. For example, some local residents became excellent prospectors and are credited with several important discoveries, such as the platinum deposit near Goodnews Bay and some of the gold and mercury deposits in the central Kuskokwim region.


Through its association with mineral exploration projects and companies in the region, Calista recognized and built on the potential of mineral resource activities to provide on-the-job training and skill-building opportunities for its shareholders, which they can utilize not only in the mineral industry, but also can carry with them to other places those skills can be applied. Calista does not look at mineral resource development as an end in itself, but as a driver that helps its communities develop broader-based economies and its shareholders develop work experience that can open doors. Resource development is needed to grow economically healthy communities where people with a wide range of skills and services are in demand. Calista's goal is to have its shareholders participate increasingly as active producers of goods and services and less as passive consumers of this society's products and receivers of its services.


Mine development is like building a city in its need for a wide range of skills and services; it is not just about operating big pieces of equipment. The transportation of supplies, products and people; and trades like electrical, mechanical, construction, plumbing, cement work, systems controls, and warehousing, logistics planning, water-quality monitoring, environmental monitoring, engineering, hydrological work, etc.; are opportunities in which Calista's shareholders can participate. Some of these jobs already exist to a limited extent in current mineral-exploration projects in the region, but others will not exist until projects become more advanced. Calista experiences a great deal of satisfaction when shareholders and their descendents fill an expanding variety of these positions.


Revenue realized by ANCSA regional corporations from mineral development is shared between the 12 ANCSA regional corporations. Seventy percent of each regional corporation's natural resource revenue is contributed by that region to the revenue-sharing pool. Distributions back to the regions from the pool are based on the percentage of the original ANCSA enrollment that came from each region, and half of each region's distributions go to the village corporations, with the remaining half going to the regional corporation. Resource revenue from any project is, therefore, widely distributed among all regional and village corporations in Alaska; however, the local payroll from mineral resource projects has the most direct and significant economic benefit to local communities and their residents.


Development of a mineral property can take a significant amount of time. Calista began examining the Donlin Creek area in 1985, and signed its first exploration agreement on the property in 1987. That agreement ended the following year due to dissolution of the mining company. After several more years of Calista effort and a brief but productive resource-building program by a second exploration company in 1994, Placer Dome optioned the property in 1995. Donlin Creek has seen steady exploratory work since then by Placer Dome, NovaGold, and the newest operator, Barrick Gold Corp.


In the meantime, Calista has continued to explore for minerals in the region and has partnered with government agencies on geological studies and regional mineral assessments to increase the geological knowledge of the region. These efforts, together with improved metals prices, have paid off in two more exploration agreements for other Calista mineral properties.

Calista was fortunate to begin its recent mineral development activities with a company that had strong environmental and indigenous people policies, and environmental staffing who initiated studies of the existing environment at Donlin Creek, including hydrology, climate, water-quality characterization, and fish and wildlife surveys. These studies are providing more focused and detailed environmental data than has been collected in the past, and in many cases these studies are the first of their kind in the region.


Calista is also fortunate that today's mineral development activities are governed by environmental laws that did not exist even a few decades ago. Calista has seen current mining activity in old placer districts that not only reclaims new disturbance, but has sometimes reclaimed old disturbance as well, when those areas are re-mined and incorporated into current activity. The industry is developing a new view of its social and environmental responsibility that closely parallels Calista's view of land stewardship and economic growth, with protection for the other natural resources dependent on that land.

June McAtee is descended from Yupik Eskimo and Saami reindeer-herding families in the Kuskokwim River region of Western Alaska. She began working for Calista Corp. as an exploration geologist and on a variety of Native land and resource issues. Since becoming vice president of lands and natural resources for Calista, she has completed a large federal land trade, signed several exploration and mining leases, selected additional ANCSA lands, and re-allocated land entitlements to villages in the Calista region.

McAtee is a member of the Alaska Miners Association and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, and is a shareholder of Calista Corp. and Bethel Native Association.
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Title Annotation:2006 Mining Special Section
Author:McAtee, June
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Previous Article:2006 mining directory.
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