A massive dredge looking to work the waters near two communities in western Alaska is sparking concerns from subsistence users—and brought the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to villages west of Nome last week, to talk to residents about their concerns.
the large gold dredge AU Grabber is unlikely to appear in Grantley Harbor this season, says the Department of Natural Resources, but not guaranteed.
A Nome miner, Hank Schimschat, owns the AU Grabber, an 80-foot long barge dredge with an excavator arm, and has submitted a permit to mine in the harbor waters.
Jack Kerin is the Natural Resource Manager with DNR. He said, “Specifically DEC has considered the current application to be of a scale that requires an individual permit and that process can take up to a year.”
That process would involve providing baseline data for the water’s resources and explaining how the dredging won’t impact subsistence. But all that work might not be necessary.
“If the applicant comes in and revises, changes his mining plan, to be something of a scale that these issues can be addressed,” said Kerin, “then it’s possible he could be issued a permit.”
Teller, Brevig Mission, and Mary’s Igloo use Grantley Harbor for subsistence activities and have sent a letter to DNR opposing Schimshat’s operation. Many residents are upset DNR is allowing the permit to undergo further review at all.
One Teller resident stated: “This is very disturbing that DNR [is] giving them a chance to review their application. First of all, you know, the backhoe is going to disturb our land. So what are they going to come up with, you know? Suction dredges next?”
That comment was made at yesterday’s community meeting in Teller where Karin and two other DNR employees addressed community concerns about dredging in Grantley Harbor. Kawerak invited DNR to Teller as part of the corporation’s annual executive session. Many residents from Brevig Mission boated over to attend.
Kerin says since the State owns the subsurface of Grantley Harbor, Schimschat has a legal right to apply for a dredging permit and revise his application.
Kerin explains, “The person has a legal right to the subsurface of the state, the mineral state, and what we have is the right to ensure that how he accesses it is done in a reasonable manner that doesn’t cause undue disruption to the local community. But he has the right to try to change his application to try to address the concerns raised by the community.”
Those concerns surround subsistence. Jolene Okleasik, Teller resident, also attended the meeting and said,“I don’t want it to become like Nome around here. Because if you see lots of dredges, you’ll probably not even see any fish or any wildlife.”
Because the waters of Nome, said Teller resident, Joe Garnie, are very different from the waters of Grantley Harbor. While the shallow waters of the Bering Sea are reestablished every year by winter storms, Grantley Harbor is not, making the harbor unable to withstand dredging’s impacts.
“Even just the minimal equipment of suction dredges would be very destructive here,” said Garnie. “This is not necessarily self-healing waters with wave action like you have right in the Bering Sea. This is old growth bottom.”
Kawerak also invited Graphite One to the meeting to talk about their local mining operations, but no representatives attended.