Six Y-K Delta communities clean up household waste with help from Donlin Gold

Barges carry containers full of product to ship to Southeast towns. (Photo by June Leffler/ KSTK)

It’s expensive to remove household waste from communities in rural Alaska. One organization did just that for six villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta earlier this month, but it wouldn’t have been possible without help from Donlin Gold, the company developing one of the biggest gold mines in the world right in the heart of the Y-K Delta.

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A program called Green Star removed the village’s household waste for them earlier this month. Green Star is part of the Alaska Forum, a non-profit group that looks to supports environmental efforts across the state, and this particular program tackles landfill issues in rural Alaskan communities.

Green Star also paired up with the Association of Village Council Presidents’ environmental planner Heather Kanuk to help with electrical waste in two of the communities. AVCP hopes to continue the collaboration, said Azara Mohammadi, spokeswoman for the organization.

This is the first time Green Star has helped out in the Y-K Delta. Before then, villages stored household waste in a container and waited for the barges to come in the spring. Anna Michael, Chuathbaluk’s assistant coordinator with the Indian General Assistance Program, says that airlines are usually too expensive.

“We had to store them in a conex and wait for winter or summer breakup for the barges to get here,” Michael said.

But even shipping it out by barge can be pricey. Green Star shipped the waste through barges, but at a reduced rate. And it was supported in large part by Donlin Gold, the company developing one of the biggest gold mines in the world in the heart of this region.

“It wasn’t until Donlin Gold stepped in and said ‘Hey, we like your program with the communities and we would be willing to donate funds to your organization if you can go out and clean out the materials in these communities,'” Huntman said.

Donlin Gold contributed $160,000 last year to make sure this happened, said Kurt Parkan, Donlin’s spokesman.

“This isn’t a way of sending a message,” Parkan said. “We are interested in keeping the Kuskokwim River healthy.”

Green Star shipped the waste for six communities in the Y-K Delta: Upper and Lower Kalskag, Chuathbaluk, Napaimute, Crooked Creek, and Aniak. All six communities served by Green Star are close to the proposed mine site.

Donlin plans to participate in more clean-up efforts for Y-K Delta communities next year, Parkan says, but details of that plan have yet to come together.