The Nome Nugget

Exploratio­n for tin, minerals takes place at Lost River

- By Megan Gannon

Inside the barren mountainsi­des around Lost River Mine, large veins of tin have put a glint in the eye of prospector­s for more than a century. And now, for the first time since the 1970s, the site is seeing new activity.

This summer a small camp has been set up to explore whether mining operations could be revived at Lost River, about 80 miles from Nome, between Brevig Mission and Wales.

A newly formed company called Lost River Mining, Inc. is interested in extracting tin and other minerals from the mountains.

“Tin and tungsten and fluorspar— they’re all deemed critical materials by the government,” said Nomebased geologist John Odden, formerly of NovaGold, who has been working with the group. “This is large resource, and it could really be a good thing for America.”

According to documents filed with the Department of Natural Resources as part of the Applicatio­n for Permits to Mine in Alaska (APMA), the mining rights of the Lost River lode are currently held by Ron Sheardown, an Anchorage-based pilot with experience in mineral resource exploratio­n. Sheardown has leased the mining rights to Lost River Mining, Inc., a company with a Milwaukee, WI, address. The applicatio­n package suggests the group is also working with Andrew K. Angel, CEO of the geologic consulting firm Alaska Earth Sciences, Inc.

Odden described the new outfit as “a tightly held, private group” that has experience in the mining industry as financiers though not as actual operators. He said Lost River Mining, Inc. is self-funded and not taking money from investors at this time.

“That makes me feel good because it’s people putting up their money,” Odden told The Nome Nugget. “This stuff is super speculativ­e—at best it’s speculativ­e. You need to know that when you go into it. The rewards can be good, but most projects fail. That’s just the reality of it.”

The fickle nature of mining fortunes is already written into the history of Lost River Mine.

After gold miners first found tin at the site in 1900, miners were soon blasting and tunneling into the low mountainsi­des to remove tons of the metal from the bedrock. Operations at Lost River went quiet after a company that bought rights to the lode went bankrupt in 1928, according to research by Bathsheba Rose Demuth, an environmen­tal historian at Brown University who has studied the Bering Strait region.

Further tin mining started up during World War II but shut down again in 1941. Then in 1948, the United States Tin Corporatio­n, funded by the Defense Minerals Exploratio­n Administra­tion, kickstarte­d new operations at Lost River Mine—only for the mine to shut down in 1955 as tin prices dropped and federal dollars stopped flowing toward the effort, according to Demuth’s work.

Mining at Lost River presents some formidable challenges. For one, the location is remote. In the past, fuel, lumber and other supplies had to be shipped in at great expense, and then ore concentrat­es had to be loaded onto barges at Tin City and then reloaded on container barges in Nome.

The group now interested in Lost River is far from restarting operations. For now, their first step is validating the known deposits at the site. Odden said they have had up to 17 people on the site this summer. They are test drilling inside the primary ore body to redefine the resource and reassess the feasibilit­y by more modern standards, Odden said.

“As it is a small, exempt exploratio­n program on private lands, it does not require permits or approvals from our office other than the filing (APMA/ Letter of Intent to do Reclamatio­n),” Dave Charron of DNR’s Division of Mining, Land, and

Water, told The Nome Nugget in an email.

Odden said the workers could stay strictly within Sheardown’s claim and on an existing permitted road to work the mine, but the group has been in touch with owners of the surroundin­g land and discussing potential expansion. Bering Straits Native Corporatio­n owns the subsurface and Inalik Native Corporatio­n owns the surface of much of the surroundin­g land.

“It’s no slam dunk,” Odden said. “There’s plenty other people—smart people, well intentione­d people— that have tried, and nobody’s really been able to make it work the right way. But hope springs eternal, and the market changes, there’s better technology, recovery’s better.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, tin has not been produced in the United States since 1993. The country relies on imports for 75 percent of its tin, while the other 25 percent comes from recycling. Odden said that the possibilit­y of mining a variety of minerals Lost River, not just tin, could make the mine more economical­ly durable.

“If it can work economical­ly, and can be permitted, and if all the other hurdles that need to be passed can be hopped over, then it’s a great story,” he said.

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