by R.B. Slats
Donlin Gold LLC (Donlin) is a subsidiary of a Southwest Regional Corporation, Calista. Donlin has proposed an open pit, hard rock gold mine, ten miles north of Crooked Creek, Alaska. The mine will be located on Native lands owned by the Kuskokwim Corporation (surface rights) and Calista (subsurface rights).
Donlin has applied to construct structures and facilities on State lands as project support: a port, an airstrip, an access road, a fiber-optic telecommunications cable, material sites, temporary access routes and the construction camps. Donlin has applied to restrict public easements located within the mine site. These applications may require reclassifying classified lands, classifying unclassified lands and classifying lands outside of the proposed site that are unclassified.
Donlin has four major components, the open pit mine; excavation, the infrastructure for transportation, the pipeline and finally the Environmental Impact Statement Process (EIS).
The mine itself is expected to take three to four years to construct, the life expectancy/productivity is 27.5 years. The open pit mine excavation is expected to be 2.2 miles long x 1 mile wide, 1,850 feet deep. Tons of ore would be processed each day for the life of the mine.
A waste treatment facility will equal to 1 mile long, covering 2,350 acres. A waste rock facility with an expectation of approximately 2,300 acres where the excavated material will be piled onto.
The transportation infrastructure plans for a barge landing near the Creek on the Kuskokwim River. The dock will take up 5 acres. The Kuskokwim villages would expect to see barges pass each day while the river is navigable. The infrastructure curtails: upgrading the dock facility in Bethel, a 30 mile road from the mine pit to the barge landing, and a 5,000 foot airstrip.
The pipeline will be 14 inches in diameter, 315 miles long. Starting from the west side of Cook Inlet off of Beluga, Alaska. A pipeline that is expected to stretch 315 miles through the Alaska Range to the Proposed Power Plant.
The Proposed Mine requires Federal and State Permits. The EIS requires the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to evaluate the federal permit applications. The input process should include: Issues and Concerns that should be addressed in the EIS, the way land and resources might be affected by the project. Ideas on alternatives on ways to minimize impacts were solicited during the comment period. The State of Alaska is the agency during the review and development of the EIS.
The proposed mine is upriver on the mighty Kuskokwim River, one of the two biggest, longest rivers in Alaska. Approximately 13 villages are downriver from Crooked Creek. All 13 villages rely on fish caught from the Kuskokwim River and have done so for generations, their lifeline. The Kuskokwim has provided its riches to the subsistence users, giving life, it has also taken life for those that did not show it respect.
Donlin Gold, the open pit mine is not as large as Pebble Mine, but Donlin has similar environmental concerns. Both Donlin and Pebble are upriver or above some of the greatest fishing in the world. Both Donlin and Pebble are close to the natural habitats that fish and game require for autonomy and regeneration. The Donlin and Pebble are proposed in areas where Alaska Natives live the subsistence way of life, a paramount part of the Native generational culture and heritage.
Donlin Gold will expose and agitate acid that will have devastating impacts on the fish populations. There will be effects of cyanide use at the mine and the dangers of spillage in transport or storage. The Donlin Gold will expose and possibly release thousands of pounds of toxic mercury. Release of toxic chemicals pose to have irreversible effects, during and years after the mine is long gone.
The annual snowfall melt and the fall rain seasons; the tons of waste rock that included the aforementioned toxic releases will erode downhill, into the creeks and ultimately down to the river. Climate change will only multiply these concerns through erosion, temperature rising and storm surges. The storm surges are already being witnessed along the coastal villages.
The core concerns of the mine: the acid mine drainage, effects of cyanide use, release of toxic mercury, sulfuric acid, arsenic and cadmium. “The iron sulfide from the open pit mine when exposed will react to generate sulfuric acid.”
Transportation of toxic chemicals may cause a disaster with the increased barge traffic, getting stuck on low waters and may pose spills of either diesel or cyanide.
Starting from Cook Inlet to the mine site a 14 inches in diameter, 315 miles long underground natural gas pipeline will be threaded through the Alaska Range – a snow capped rugged mountain range where the glaciers do not have names, and have been there since the ice age.
If one gets on a jet traveling from Bethel to Anchorage, after take off, in 5 to 10 minutes they would be over the mine site. The next 45 minutes would be over the Alaska Range, over no man’s land. Coming in for a landing the Cook Inlet is where the beginning of the pipeline is proposed. It may not ever be visible if it became a reality. Cook Inlet is experiencing major erosion issues in the Matsu Valley. On the Matsu River houses are being swept away every summer.
The EIS began in December 2012. The deadline for comments for the EIS itself was in April/May 2016. Mass mailing to the Tribal Governing bodies of surrounding villages soliciting comments and notices of the meeting dates and times in selected villages for the public meetings were undertaken. A few selected villages undermined the Tribal Consultation Process, not all the Tribes were invited to be involved with the comment process because the meetings were held in select villages.
A Calista charter plane picked up two designees from our tribe for the EIS meeting to take place in a next village. There were Calista Board members, Donlin Gold employees on the plane. Jobs and the promises for future employment for our youth became the topic of the EIS in March 2016, in our neighboring village.
The concerns for the Environment Risks to the “way of life” on the Kuskokwim were placed on the backburner, and did not get noted by the media person from the area Radio Station, who was also on the chartered plane with Calista. The EIS public meetings had the appearance of being “rigged”, because the promises of jobs seemed like the diversion of the risks and the environmental impacts from Donlin’s development.
The Final EIS is slated to be available on the week of April 22, 2018 on April 27, 2018. This is a lengthy Final and takes effort even just to download and print out for review. The southwest Public Radio has stated that it is a foot tall; with about 10,668 pages. The pubic has 30 days to comment on the Final EIS: with a deadline of May 29, 2018. I pride myself as an avid reader; but even I can’t read a whole textbook in a whole semester for any class. The Record of Decision is due in August 2018.
The mine will transport chemicals to the mine, if there are any spill(s) the fish and game and their habitat will be affected. Chemicals will be exposed and will be piled along with the waste rock. The dam will not stop the containment of the chemicals, because the snow melt, rain and the climate change erosion will cause the contaminants to drain downhill, into the streams and onto the river. The effects will be irreversible and poses to extinguish a way of life for the people of the Kuskokwim. The long term effects poses to extinguish or decimate a way of life for the people downriver from the proposed mine and along the Bering Sea Coastal Villages.
The pipeline may break, because of the terrain. In any mishap, it may take longer to reach, make repairs and clean up any spills. The pipeline will be like a thread through a rugged mountainous terrain. The pipeline is essentially “Trans-Alaska.”
The EIS is not a forum to promise our youth jobs for the future.
The sister “Pebble” mine has “left its mark on the explored land, tribes say, and State is lax in requiring repairs.” The Anchorage Dispatch News 11/05/2016 printed a study entitled: “Study faults State Agency, Pebble for Contaminated Land, Leaky Wells, Open Holes.” There are two sides to this story but the efforts of the developers and the opposition were embroiled in federal courts, while the Pebble mine was searching for new investors.
The former investors “upped and left” because of the environmental ramifications of the risks involved. The exploration holes are not “capped” or plugged, and are said to be leaky, leaching acid. They haven’t begun to mine at this point, and the comment period for the new request ends at the end of November 2016. Their exploration holes are leaking and they haven’t even done any mining yet!! The State is not expediting clean up of metal used to stabilize exploration drilling.
The Pebble Mine has new developments and new partners for their partnership; the Pebble Protesters rallied in Anchorage as the Army Corp were soliciting input on the Environmental Review on April 19, 2018.
Southwestern Alaska is sitting idle while Donlin Gold is moving forward with their request for an open pit mine. A mine that has a potential of extinguishing all living things down river from it’s site, a people that rely on them, and ultimately their way, a way of life exterminated or at the very least “a way” that will cease to exist.
I applaud those people who have been raising concerns; especially those people who are in the immediate area of the proposed mine; ground zero on the Kuskokwim who really haven’t had a voice to raise their concerns except through letters and opinion letters, which come in increments.
Anywhere on the globe wherever there is and was an Open Pit Mine the effects did or, are still affecting “life” around them. The open pit’s effect of making their way down to the rivers and eventually devastating the ecosystems of fish and game. The indigenous people are the ones who have had to endure their lives being swept from under them even in this day and age. These are all moving forward, right under us. We are rebels without a clue, no clue about what may lie in our future in Southwest Alaska or the beginning of the end of it. This is our watch!
The Draft EIS had different options to choose from, the first one was: “Take No Action.” Some things are better left alone.
R.B. Slats is a resident of Chevak, AK.