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Prospecting company revives search for Alaskan gold
Anchorage Daily News


June 18, 2007

SOLDOTNA, Alaska -- An international prospecting company is reviving the chase for gold in Cook Inlet sands a century after the first attempts didn't pan out and two decades after most everyone gave up looking.

Hemis Corp., a 2-year-old company with offices in Switzerland and Nevada, has paid an exploration company for the right to pick up where it left off in 1986 with state prospecting applications that are still pending for an offshore zone north and west of Anchor Point.

There are flakes enough along the Kenai Peninsula's sandy southwest clam beaches to keep recreational panners curious, but Hemis aims to drill into coastal sediments this summer and prove there's also a lucrative concentration there.

"The area looks very promising," Hemis President Norman Meier said from his home in Zurich, Switzerland. Aspen Exploration, the company that applied for prospecting rights in the 1980s, found gold on the beach and did aerial magnetic monitoring that indicated metals underwater, he said.

"They found large proof for magnetite on the ground, and usually gold occurs with magnetite. The (beach) samples are high-grade."

Others have heard that before, though, and say they're not ready to get worked up over a would-be dredging rush in the migratory path of the Peninsula's golden egg, the salmon. Agents for Hemis met with community groups this spring, but many commercial fishermen have been busy readying their boats for the season.

"I don't think the commercial fishing fleet has really understood the implications of what they're proposing," said Gary Fandrei, executive director of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, who met with Hemis representatives last month. "They haven't really digested what the proposal is."

The nonprofit fishery association's board likely will discuss the project at its September meeting -- after this summer's exploration but long before state and federal regulators could approve actual mining operations.

Gillnetter Steve Tvenstrup of Kenai said that he had not heard of the proposal.

Anchor Point, just northwest of Homer, is south of where gillnetters work the Inlet, he said. Still, he would want to know whether the dredging might disrupt salmon movements.

"I would have concerns about it," he said. Then again, "If there's a lot of gold out there, I might be out there with my boat."

Whether there's a lot of gold is an old question, but one that state geologists think they can answer.

"I think it's far-fetched, myself," said Kerwin Krause, a geologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "A lot of geologists think it's far-fetched."

The reason is that placer gold, the kind found laced in sand and gravel, usually is associated with erosion from a solid source such as has not been found along Kenai streams.

"The Kenai Peninsula -- certainly there's been a little bit of gold development, and on the west side there's some gold (still)," Krause said. "But you don't see major gold districts."

Seeking gold along that shore was a fool's errand in the late 19th century, when Homer's namesake, Homer Pennock, bragged to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter that the strike would shame the world-famous Comstock Lode. Prospectors came to Anchor Point and dug sluice ditches to wash the sands and concentrate the gold, said Janet Klein, author of "The Homer Spit: Coal, Gold and Con Men."

"They did find some gold flakes," Klein said. And even today when one pans the area, "occasionally some color does show." But they didn't find enough density to make mining pay off.

Told the state's opinion that there's likely no economically worthwhile deposit off Anchor Point, Klein said, "I would probably agree -- 'worthwhile' being the operative word."

R.V. Bailey begs to differ. He's the Colorado-based Aspen Exploration chairman whose company long ago turned its attention to oil and gas. It never let go of the Anchor Point prospecting application it filed with the state in the 1980s, even though a dip in gold's price then led him to back away from pushing for the mineral rights at the time.

"You can still pan gold there," Bailey said. "Anyone can go there and pan gold. If we didn't believe it and Hemis didn't believe it, they wouldn't be exploring out there."

The state never processed Aspen's application, technically leaving it in limbo all these years while other applications that once lined Cook Inlet were either dropped or ruled against the state's interests, not worthy of a mineral-rights transfer.

Sampling of sediments, which Hemis plans to do in 50 drill cores this summer, is allowed in state waters without formal permits, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Hemis announced last month that it paid Aspen $50,000 to take up its application for mineral rights in an 8-mile-long swath of oceanfront covering about 100,000 acres. Hemis will stake Aspen a 5 percent share of any eventual revenue.


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