SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Kuskokwim Tribes Fight Donlin Mine Permits

Leaders Assert Major Mine Permits are Illegal, Rushed, and Ignore Local Concerns


February 10, 2019
Sunday PM

(SitNews) Bethel, Alaska - Thursday a consortium of  tribal governments from the Kuskokwim region led by Orutsararmiut Native Council (ONC) has filed an appeal of two permits recently issued by the State of Alaska to Donlin Gold, a mining project owned by Canadian based mining giants NovaGold and Barrick Gold.  The Tribes are represented by Earthjustice in the appeals.

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Located in Western Alaska, in the Yukon Kuskokwim region, Donlin Gold is said to be one of the largest known, undeveloped gold deposits in the world, with probable reserves estimated at 33.8 million ounces of gold, according to Donlin Gold's website. The Donlin Gold project will be an environmentally sound, open-pit gold mine. Located about 10 miles from Crooked Creek Village, the project would process approximately 59,000 short tons of ore per day.

If it is constructed, the proposed Donlin Gold mine will be one of the world's largest open-pit mines. The project will dramatically change the Yukon Kuskokwim region, threatening the health and well-being of residents, communities, and wildlife for generations.  Construction of the mine may permanently damage water, fish and game resources, and the subsistence lifestyle of the Yukon Kuskokwim River Delta. Donlin’s proposed reclamation and closure plan is of great concern to tribal leaders  who demand a plan that protects future generations who will have to live with the consequences of the Donlin project for all time.

“Our concerns and request for dialogue on waste management, reclamation, fish habitat and many other permits have been ignored repeatedly by the State.” said Peter Evon, ONC Executive Director.  “Given our voices and rights as tribal governments have seemingly fallen on deaf ears our only recourse here is to challenge these permits that would allow Donlin Gold to operate outside of state water quality standards and leave a toxic pit in the Kuskokwim drainage that will require water treatment forever.”   

“We are not at all satisfied with what Donlin has proposed in terms of full reclamation and water treatment obligations.  We believe that the State of Alaska must address the inadequacy of their current plan, including an inadequate bond amount before the people of the Kuskokwim can even begin to feel comfortable with accepting this kind of a risk.“ said Evon. 

Since taking office last December the Dunleavy administration has issued two final permits and dozens of new draft permits for the project without any consultation with Tribal Governments according to a news release from the Orutsararmiut Native Council.

On August 13, 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued their Record of Decision (ROD) on the proposed Donlin Gold mine project. Immediately following signing of the ROD, the Corps of Engineers issued a combined permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and the BLM issued the Offer to Lease for the right-of-way (ROW) for those portions of the natural gas pipeline that would cross federal lands.

Issuance of the ROD and the federal approvals marked the final step in the environmental review process that began in December 2012 with publication of a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). This was amajor step in the project’s effort to secure key permits needed to construct and operate a mine in Southwest Alaska.

The Donlin Gold project is said would provide thousands of jobs during construction, which is estimated to take three to four years. Throughout the estimated 27+ year operational phase, a variety of positions and shift work will be available.

Infrastructure plans call for a power-generation plant, water-treatment plant, access roads, housing, two ports, a natural-gas pipeline and an airstrip.

Donlin Gold estimates that the proposed mine could produce an average of 1.3 million ounces of gold annually during operation. This production level would make Donlin Gold one of the world’s largest gold mines. Donlin estimates that the project will take between 3 to 4 years to construct, with a projected mine life of approximately 27 1/2 years.

The full list of Tribes signed onto the appeal includes:Orutsararmiut Native Council, Native Village of Kwigillingok, Native Village of Eek, Kasigluk Traditional Council, Chuloonawick Native Village,Native Village of Nightmute, Kongiganak Traditional Council, Native Village of Tununak, Chevak Traditional Council, Organized Village of Kwethluk, Chefornak Traditional Council, Tuluksak Tribal Council, Sleetmute Traditional Council, and Akiak Native Community. 

Currently there is an open comment period where the public can review and comment on the applications and preliminary decisions drafted by the Southcentral Regional Land Office. In addition, the Resource Assessment and Development Section proposes to amend the Kuskokwim Area Plan. Comment period is open January 28, 2019 and closes March 29, 2019. Download the public notice letter Public Notice for Proposed Kuskokwim Area Plan Amendment (pdf)

A public comment period is also open for Analysis and Proposed Decision on the DNR pipeline right-of-way lease application from January 28, 2019 through 5:00pm March 22, 2019. Written comments may be emailed to, faxed to (907) 269-6880, or mailed or hand-delivered to:

Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Division of Oil and Gas
State Pipeline Coordinator’s Section
3651 Penland Parkway
Anchorage, AK 99508

DNR will hold public hearings concerning the Donlin Pipeline decision on the dates listed below. The public may provide testimony during the hearing or submit written comments.

McGrath Community Center, Feb. 27, 2019, from 4:00-6:00pm
Tyonaek Tribal Center, Feb. 28, 2019, from 1:00-2:00pm
Bethel Cultural Center, Mar. 4, 2019, from 6:00-8:00pm
Aniak Community Center, Mar. 6, 2019, from 7:00-9:00pm
Atwood Conference Center (Anchorage), Mar. 12, 2019, from 5:30-7:30pm
Skwentna Roadhouse, Mar. 13, 2019, from 11:00am-1:00pm


On the Web:

Donlin Gold Project Summary(pdf)

Project Fact Sheet (pdf)

Final Environmental Impact Statement(pdf)

Donlin Gold Project Reclamation Plan Approval (pdf)

01/23/19 Waste Management Permit, Donlin Gold Project (pdf)


Reporting & Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Orutsararmiut Native Council

Donlin Gold

Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources


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