The Kuskokwim River is Worth its Weight in Gold

by R.B. Slats

A Proposed Open Pit Mine: will be 2.2 miles long, 1 mile wide; 1/3 of a mile (deep) into the earth. The Open Pit Mine is dubbed Donlin Gold. The operation will be located 10 miles north of the village of Crooked Creek. The Tailings would cover up to 2,350 acres of land, the waste rock pile would use up 2,240 acres. These are prospects with the idea of processing up to 59,000 tons of ore each day. The Donlin Gold has a projected life of up to 27 years of operation.
“The story behind the gold mine began more than a 100 years ago, when the gold rush prospectors discovered tiny flecks of ore in steams near the Kuskokwim River.” A 100 years later today in Southwest Alaska in the midst of the Kuskokwim Mountains, two mining companies from Canada could be getting the green light to dig a colossal Open Pit Mine for the largest underdeveloped gold deposit in the world.
The Canadian Companies are: NovaGold Resources Inc. of Vancouver and Barrick Gold Corporation of Toronto. NovaGold and Barrick signed on with the Kuskokwim Corporation and Calista to begin a 50/50 Partnership to develop the Donlin Gold LLC gold mine. Thus, the Donlin Gold LLC. operation(s).
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was initiated to start the permitting process with the Army Corp. of Engineers in 2012. An EIS was drafted in 2015. The Final EIS was completed with a “whole month” for final comments on the 10,668 pages that had a deadline of May 29, 2018.
The Record of Decision is slated or due in August 2018. The Final Donlin Gold EIS stands about a foot tall; a better picture in comparison that a typical ruralite could relate to, would be about “as tall as a box of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread Crackers” or close to it.
This piece of literature is an attempt to bring to light some observations from other “Open Pit Mines” and the effects they had on the environment and life around them. This is also an attempt to bring to light; the environmental disasters and ongoing irreversible damage that are still evident, years after the Open Pit Mine’s closures. Seeing is believing, this piece is also a feeble attempt to show pictorial evidences of destruction caused by the Open Pit Mining operations.
Donlin Gold is proposed atop a small village of Crooked Creek that is on a creek that leads on down to a river. This river: the Kuskokwim River is the second longest river in the State of Alaska, the first being the Yukon with headwaters in Canada that leads out to the Bering Sea.
Southwest Alaska is a home to the Cupik/Yupik and the Athabascan people who still live a subsistence way of life. The people of Southwest Alaska may not be aware of the risks and the likelihood of the recurring environmental effects of Open Pit Mines that have been evident throughout history.
The Donlin Gold development should be of major concern because of how fast the process is moving forward and without an adequate period of time to weigh all options by those most affected for the benefit of all involved, and especially for their future generations.
History of Open Pit Mines will tell you that the devastating effects of these mines are still imminent years after their closures. The environmental effects from Donlin Gold may not occur in our lifetimes, but our childrens’ children’s lifetime.
Some of the risks and case studies are outlined as follows:
Donlin Gold’s anticipation of processing 59,000 tons of ore each day is colossal. In reality: “Open Pit Mining creates a great waste for a small yield. On average it takes 79 tons of waste to extract an ounce of gold according to a conservative estimate by the NO DIRTY GOLD campaign, a project of Earthworks & Oxfarm.”1
Open Pit Mines have been shown throughout history to be menace to the environment around them. Dangers to the environment are present throughout the Open Pit Mining process: Tons of hard-rock that have been sleeping for geological eons get exposed. Donlin Gold plans to strip a whole mountain. These tons of rocks are excavated, crushed, exposing elements, minerals and dusts of metal.
To extract the gold from these rocks, cyanide will be used; a highly toxic chemical. When cyanidation occurs to separate the gold from the rocks, rock slurries are made, which are mixed rocks and liquid, thereby creating tailings. Toxic and radioactive elements from these liquids can leak to the bedrock if not contained. The containments are called Tailing Dams. Again for a small yield! Hence: Acid Mine Drainage (AMD hereafter).
Extracting and piling of tons of waste rocks, into the ore stock pile facility, into the tailings and using toxic chemicals to extract the gold eventually form AMD. Sulfides from the processed rock interaction with the air and water creates sulfuric acid. The created AMD is devastating to the ecosystems, making water too acidic to support life.
The sulfuric acid in the AMD leaches out other ores: arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury which has health effects, also effects air and water. “Metal mining has been linked to 96% of the world’s arsenic emissions.”2
Rio Tinto Mine, Spain
The Rio Tinto had its peak production in 1930, it closed in 2001.
Cyanide is preferred by the mining companies to extract gold from the crushed ores. Spills, leaks will poison: ecosystems, fish, plants, wildlife and ultimately human beings. Transportation and storage of the cyanide will be hazardous because of the rural location of the proposed mine, it’s toxicity and the risks of AMD, in a setting that is reliant on fish and game for sustenance.
Transportation of cyanide has to be through the Bering Sea onto the Kuskokwim and finally to a small port and then 30 miles of road to the Donlin Site. It is unclear where the proposed storage will be for hazardous chemicals and their routes for transport. ‘This chemical has caused wide and general devastation in water systems in the Globe with over 30 spills in the last 5 years.’3. No EIS could prevent accidents and spills, no matter how tall the Final EIS is. These spills are facts and being allowed to happen around the globe.
Lake Cowal, New South Wales, Australia
Barrick’s very low-grade ore. With minimal residues of gold. Leaching gold from the ore requires 6,613 tons (6000 metric tons) per year of cyanide and other hazardous chemicals. “The copious waste from this process flows into open pits separated from the lake by an Earthen Wall or “bund.” The mine tailings are stored within the flood plain in unlined dams 3.5 kilometers from the lake. The two tailing ponds containing highly toxic chemicals are a tempting habitat for migratory birds.”
The Lake Cowal Campaign aims to prevent further gold mining by Evolution Mining in the environmentally-fragile area around Lake Cowal and to stop land degradation and possible toxicity problems from the mine and its tailing dams. The Wiradjuri people are being joined in their campaign by various Australian environmentalist groups who formed the Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal initiated by the Rainforest Information Centre and Friends of the Earth Australia.
The only barrier between the lake and the open pit would be an earth wall or bund. Tailings would be stored in dams 3.5 km from the lake. Water would be supplied from a bore in the Bland Creek Paleochannel borefield, 20 km east of the mine site and will use up to 17 megalitres per day.
Berkely Pit Mine, Butte, Montana United States
The Berkeley Pit mine is located in Butte, Montana U.S. This mine was opened in 1955 and closed “ironically” on ‘Earth Day’ 1982. Berkeley is one mile long and a half mile wide. The depth is 1,780 feet (540 m).
“The snow goose flies 2,500 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic lands.” The flight is their annual migration, they migrate; to and fro, twice each year for their survival (Perrin). “In 1995 a flock of snow geese stopped for a rest at the pond, and 342 of them died there. After 30 years (Berkeley) was exhausted, no longer profitable; abandoned and the water pumps shut down. Rain and ground water began to rise within leaching out metals and minerals. Water became acidic as lemon; made a toxic mix of arsenic lead and zinc. No fish live there, no plants line the shores, there aren’t any insects around; the water level is still rising; if unchecked it will spill over in 20 years.”
The Berkeley mines became useless, worthless in 1982; abandoned and still leaching toxins 36 years later today – the facts of the aftermath and the ongoing effects. Today if Donlin Gold shuts down after it’s expected operation 27 years from now it will be 2045. A logical forecast for Donlin using Berkeley’s historical data, after its closure in 2045 it will still be leaching toxins into the year 2081.
Animus River, Colorado, United States
In 2015, Animus River Spill 2015 happened in Colorado. The cause was slated as accidental; caused by the Environmental Protection Agency clean up crews. This spill wasn’t just a spill; it was a disaster. 3,000,000 gallons of wastewater gushed into the environment downwards from around the Gold King Mine in Colorado. The released wastewater had 12,000 times higher than the normal levels of lead. The States affected: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Two Rivers were affected with Heavy Metal Plume: Amicus and San Juan into New Mexico that carried the pollution into Utah.
There are 500,000 (a rough number) of old mines similar to the Gold King Mine that need to be cleaned up. This will prove that accidents will happen, no matter who is doing what in the Open Pit Mining process. The environmental crew used heavy equipment to enter a defunct Colorado mine, when they sprung a leak. All 3,000,000 gallons of it.
The Animus River turned yellow or orange from “oxidation” or dissolved iron or metals in the runaway waste water within a day.
Environmental Impact Statement(s)
The EIS does not provide; for the water being the most valuable resource in Southwest Alaska. There has never been a price tag placed for the clean waters across Alaska, right now the Kuskokwim water is worth its weight in gold, because our fish and game are dependent on it for their survival.
Alaska is mecca for climate change, the proposed mine area is in a wetland habitat which is still pristine and essentially untouched, a flyway for several different species of migratory birds, a spawning and breeding ground for fish and game.
The water needed to conduct the mining business has to come from somewhere for the 27+ years of operation. The EIS does not prevent disasters, but states out this is what they’ll do and none of the risks are depicted. If any of the risks become a reality, who will pay for the clean up now and years from now? Accidents, disasters and the Open Pit Mining environmental effects will be irreversible.
The Donlin Gold mine is proposed in Southwest Alaska in the Land of the Cupik/Yupik and the Athabascan. The Yup’ik people live mainly in the coastal watersheds of the Yukon and the Kuskokwim Rivers both of which flow westward through Southwest Alaska and drain into the Bering Sea. The Cupik are predominant in the Nunivak Island and in the village of Chevak. The Athabascan inhabit the interior.
All three people hunt, fish and gather and have been doing so since time immemorial. Southwest Alaska is a wetland and all of their fish and game rely on clean water. The water, land and sea has been their lifeline, the core of their means of survival in some of the harshest climate for generations.
The people have had to adapt to changes in a rapidly changing world. The people have had to adapt to being some of the world’s most regulated people as they attempt to hold onto their forefathers’ world.
All of their practices of survival have been handed down through generations by word of mouth and hands on; living the experiences. The Cupik/Yupik/Athabascan lives have been essentially unscathed because Disasters and the Rapid Changes of the globe has not really been upon the people of Southwestern Alaska.
I have watched documentaries and video presentations of the third world people having their lives taken away from right under them by large companies and corporations that have come into their countries, desecrated and broke up their homes and left them with nothing. I actually thought that those events would never happen to us, in this day and age. That time is here; under the auspices of Donlin Gold.
“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” -Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
During the EIS Process the “Draft” Donlin Gold had its alternatives towards the end of its contents. This is what I picked up from the 70+ pages of the Final Donlin Gold Final Executive Summary: 2.1. Alternative I-No Action.
Donlin Gold Project; Final Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary
2.1. Alternative I – No Action
The No Action Alternative means that no permits would be issued, and the project would not be implemented. There would be no mine site development, no new transportation facilities, and no pipeline. The future of the existing camp, airstrip, and the related facilities would be decided at the discretion of the landowners, Calista and TKC. The No Action Alternative represents a baseline for comparison of effects between the Proposed Action (Alternative 2) and the other action alternatives. Current non-profit ocean and river barging traffic would be expected to continue at similar levels. P. 8 Final EIS
The final comment period came and left on the Final EIS for Donlin Gold. I didn’t read the 10,668 pages, knowing that by the time I got to the hundred pages, deciphering the language and drawing up a comment on the first few pages; the deadline would have been on me.
The Donlin Gold EIS had a 14 inch in diameter pipeline thread through a rugged mountainous terrain. The pipeline is 2 inches longer than our proverbial “Sailor Boy Pilot Bread” box in diameter. What are they thinking? They inundate us with technical and legal jargon, give us no time to read their Final and then impose a deadline that had also no time to sleep on it (no time to think). No time to decipher anything. And then thread a thread through a haystack.
This piece is a plight to protect our water, land and seas, the fish and game for future generations. This piece is to protect the core for our existence in our area.
R.B. Slats is a resident of Chevak, AK.
1. Barricks Dirty Secrets, 1,2,3; 2.; 3. By Shannon – Background and river course data from,[dead link] watershed boundaries mostly according to[dead link], CC BY-SA 4.0,; 4. Washington Post; 5. Alaska Journal of Commerce Donlin.doc; 6. ** Winged Migration; Jacques Perrin ; 7. By Riverhugger – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,; 8.