State agency opens review of Donlin Gold’s pipeline right-of-way

Donlin runway and camp site in summer 2014. (Photo by Dean Swope, KYUK – Bethel)

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources approved the right-of-way lease for the Donlin Gold mine’s proposed gas pipeline in January 2020. Now it’s reviewing it.

The decision to review comes after Donlin opponents appealed. Several groups, including the Orutsararmiut Native Council in Bethel, appealed the approval when it first came out, saying that the agency failed to consider all of the present and future impacts of the proposed pipeline.

DNR Commissioner Corrie Feige denied the appeal. In response, opponents, including the Native Village of Eek and ONC tribal member and Bethel resident Beverly Hoffman, appealed Feige’s decision in a lawsuit filed in Alaska Superior Court in March. In April, Feige changed her mind.

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The 315-mile pipeline will stretch from Cook Inlet to Crooked Creek, the village closest to the proposed mine site in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Donlin Gold proposed the pipeline after communities expressed concerns over the impact extra barge traffic could have on the Kuskokwim River and fish habitat.

In its decision to review the right-of-way lease, DNR defended its analysis, saying that the lengthy federal environmental review process did consider those impacts. DNR did not explain why they have now decided to review the lease.

Mark Springer, executive director of the Orutsararmiut Native Council, will make his next move based on DNR’s decision after the review is finished.

“What we’re kind of hoping is that one of the impacts of the pipeline that gets considered is, in fact, construction in the mine itself,” Springer said.

Last year, before he worked for ONC, Springer testified in favor of the pipeline, saying that it would bring cheaper gas to the region. But since then, Springer took on the executive director position at ONC and plans to continue their opposition to the proposed mine. Meanwhile, with Feige’s decision to review the lease, the lawsuit has been dismissed, according to a press release. 

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DNR said that they will issue a comment period after the analysis is concluded, but did not have a timeline of when that will be completed. Donlin Gold said that the decision to review the right-of-way lease does not impact their timeline to build the mine.