EIS forthcoming for proposed Donlin gold mine

Permitting for the proposed Donlin Gold mine, which will affect communities along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is underway. An official draft of the statement examining the mine’s affects on the environment will be available at the end of November.

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Donlin runway and camp site in summer 2014. Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.
Donlin runway and camp site in summer 2014. Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.

Before the mine can be built more than 150 permits and certifications must be approved by federal, state and local agencies. Approval from state agencies is ongoing, but in order to get federal approvals, an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, is required.

“In July of 2012, Donlin Gold submitted it’s initial application to the U.S. Corps of Engineers for a Clean Water Act 404 permit,” according to Donlin Gold External Affairs Manager Kurt Parkan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the lead organization producing the EIS. They’re a federal agency that handles public engineering and managing services.

In some cases, an environmental assessment is completed to determine if an EIS should be conducted.

Keith Gordon, the project manager for the Corps of Engineers division in Alaska, says there was no question that an EIS was needed for the gold mine.

“The reality is, for the scale of some projects and the potential impacts of some projects, it’s obvious immediately that an environmental impact statement is necessary,” Gordon said.

Gordon says the draft of the EIS should be available to the public Nov. 30. People will have a chance to comment in person, online and by writing letters from the time the EIS is published until next April.

“We’re currently evaluating 14 public meetings that would be conducted to facilitate comment from 66 potentially affected communities in the region,” Gordon said.

By impacted communities, Gordon means areas that will be affected in employment or socioeconomically.

Gordon says the EIS will be over a thousand pages long. But only the executive summary will be translated into Yup’ik.

In English, the summary is estimated to be 120 pages, but Gordon says the Yup’ik translation will be about half as long–at 60 pages.

“Given all of the meetings that have been held up and down the Kuskokwim River, they’re thinking that, that will adequately define the project for those folks that need to see it in Yup’ik or prefer to see it in Yup’ik,” Gordon said.

The proposed mine is a joint venture between two Canadian companies, Barrick Gold Corporation and NovaGold, as well as the Calista Corporation and the Kuskokwim Corporation. The native corporations own the surface and sub-surface rights.

Barrick Gold has subcontracted AECOM, an international multi-management service, to handle the Yup’ik translation.

Gordon says that once the public comment period is over, the Corps of Engineers will review the statements and reassess or improve the mining plan, if necessary.

He says the Corps of Engineers hopes to make a final decision by December 2017, but predicting when this process will be over, is kind of like predicting the weather.