Donlin Gold still waiting for big state permits

The proposed mine could be one of the biggest in the world — if completed. (Katie Basile/KYUK).

Donlin Gold, the company developing a proposed gold mine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, says it hopes to get most of its major permits out of the way this year. But so far, progress has been a bit slow.

“The last ones we received was, I think, the [Army Corps of Engineers] permits and the Title 16 [Alaska Department of Fish and Game] fish permits,” said Kurt Parkan, spokesman for Donlin Gold.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ joint record of decision that came out in August is the biggest milestone for the company so far in the permitting process. It capped six years of environmental review for the project, which could be one of the biggest gold mines in the world, if developed. The Army Corps greenlighted the project in a joint decision with the Bureau of Land Management, which had to give Donlin permission to build a lengthy gas pipeline on some of its land.

So, what other permits does Donlin have? It has a wastewater discharge permit from the state, which will let Donlin Gold discharge water from its mining operations into Crooked Creek, a tributary of the Kuskokwim River. The water is treated for mercury and cyanide from its operations to meet the required drinking water standard. The state also issued an air quality permit for Donlin last year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game gave Donlin 13 permits in August for disrupting fish habitat. The mine would eliminate one salmon stream and partially destroy another. Donlin is required to mitigate habitat near the site or offsite to compensate for that disruption.

What permits does Donlin hope to get before the end of the year? One is approval of its draft reclamation plans and financial assurances, which are basically how Donlin plans to set aside money for reclamation. But the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is still reviewing those plans. Faith Martineau, who coordinates the permitting process for the Donlin project at DNR, says that they will likely reach a decision before the end of the year.

DNR is the lead agency for issuing permits under its jurisdiction and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Another permit Donlin hopes to get this year is an integrated waste permit from DEC.

“That’s essentially a disposal of all material that’s generated at the mine, like the waste rock, and the garbage from the kitchen, and water flood from treatment plants,” Parkan said.

Parkan says that they are also expecting a public hearing from DNR within the next month or so for its right of way permit for the portion of the pipeline that goes through state-owned land. But Donlin still has a ways to go in the permitting process. It needs 100 permits to begin mining, and its dam safety permits, which will be a major milestone for the company, won’t come for a couple of years.

“The dam safety permits is probably is the biggest permit that will be outstanding after this year,” Parkan said.

Donlin needs these permits to build its tailings dam and other infrastructure. Parkan doesn’t know when the company will begin the necessary drilling and analysis to get those permits.

The article has been updated to include comments from Faith Martineau, who is coordinating the permitting process between DNR and DEC for the proposed Donlin gold mine.

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