Permitting process already rigorous, transparent and based on science

by Andy Cole and Andrew Guy

Truth is important, especially when the stakes are as high as they are with Ballot Measure 1, the salmon-habitat initiative.
Donlin Gold, located in the Yukon Kuskokwim region, is an Alaska project owned by Alaska companies and, if developed, will hire Alaskans, buy from Alaska companies, pay Alaska taxes and benefit all Alaskans.
Donlin Gold sits on land owned by Alaska corporations. The Calista Corporation is the regional Native corporation and owns the minerals at Donlin Gold. The Kuskokwim Corporation (TKC) is the village corporation for the 10 communities closest to the proposed mine and owns the surface lands. Donlin Gold is an Alaska limited liability company created in 2007 to develop and operate the project. It is owned by NovaGold Resources Alaska Inc., an Alaska company, and Barrick Gold US Inc., a California company. Their parent companies are registered in Canada, and their shares are publicly traded on stock markets both in Canada and the U.S.
Under the terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), Calista and TKC have a right to responsibly develop their natural resources at Donlin Gold for the economic benefit of their Shareholders. Through ANCSA’s Sections 7(i) and 7(j), Calista and TKC will share revenues from Donlin Gold with all eligible Alaska Natives.
It is erroneous to suggest that Donlin Gold’s permits are based on laws that are vague, subject to political influence, outdated and inadequate to protect salmon habitat. The fact is a rigorous and transparent state and federal regulatory-review process has just been completed. As part of the six-year Environmental Impact Statement process, state and federal regulators kept the public comment periods open for more than nine months and held over 50 public meetings, primarily in the YK region. More than 7,500 substantive comments were received and considered.
Calista, TKC and Donlin Gold conducted hundreds of meetings in the region to discuss the project and listen to what residents had to say.
The more than 100 permits and approvals the mine needs to operate are grounded in science and supported by decades of baseline studies and rigorous technical analysis. They include surveys of local streams to ascertain which are habitat for salmon and other fish, identify spawning and overwintering habitat, and establish habitat quality.
Donlin Gold is a highly regulated project subject to stringent permits that ensure it will be a safe and environmentally sound operation. For example, the project’s wastewater-discharge permit requires Donlin Gold to treat water to standards that protect human and fish habitat before release. The water Donlin Gold will discharge will be of a higher quality than what occurs naturally, and it must meet all standards at the point of release without the use of a mixing zone.
Both Calista and TKC take very seriously their responsibility to ensure that development of the Donlin Gold project is carried out in a thoughtful manner that safeguards Shareholders’ way of life and protects all resources, including salmon and rainbow smelt. Calista and TKC have been very active participants in development of the project and have signed agreements that not only obligate Donlin Gold to the highest environment standards, but also mandate that their Shareholders be given opportunities to meaningfully improve their lives.
Further, the compensatory mitigation to which Donlin Gold agreed will rehabilitate Crooked Creek tributaries that were affected by old placer mining done by other miners before Donlin Gold even existed, providing better fish habitat than what exists now in the tributaries that the project will affect.
So, when you consider how to vote on Ballot Measure 1, we urge you to consider Alaska’s fish-habitat permitting process in the full context of the regulatory programs applicable to mines in Alaska. We believe that the performance of Alaska’s large metal mines demonstrates that mining and fish are compatible and that Alaska’s regulatory programs are effective in protecting – and indeed improving – fish and wildlife habitat.
For these reasons and more, Calista and Donlin Gold oppose Ballot Measure 1 because it is an unnecessary expansion of state regulation that will adversely affect every Alaskan.
We urge you to vote NO on Ballot Measure 1 because Alaskans do not need an additional, complex regulatory program; Alaska’s existing laws are effectively protecting salmon habitat.
Andy Cole is General Manager of Donlin Gold LLC.
Andrew Guy is president and CEO of the Calista Corporation.