Tribal leaders request permit to be withdrawn for Donlin Gold Mine project

Request for permit to be withdrawn from Donlin gold mine project
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 10:47 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tribal leaders from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta took a major step Wednesday in their opposition of the proposed Donlin Gold Mine.

The leading members made the trip to Anchorage Wednesday to formally ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke permits for the open pit mine.

In a letter to the corps, the tribal coalition requested that the Clean Water Act 404 permits for the proposed gold mine — which mine advocates say would be located next to Crooked Creek, a tributary to the Kuskokwim River — be withdrawn.

Anaan’arar Sophie Swope, the director of the Mother Kuskokwim tribal coalition, cited new information that creates threats to tribes “including climate change, erosion and decimated salmon runs.”

“I really hope that the nation comes to terms with understanding that Donlin Gold (Mine) is going to be the largest pure gold open pit mine in the world,” Swope said. “The fact that it’s on a salmon spawn tributary should be a straight-up no-go. We definitely need to stand up and speak up just to make this critical for the Army Corp to actually address.”

According to the release that came out Wednesday, Donlin is officially opposed by more than 14 tribal governments in the region.

Officials with Donlin Gold Mine responded by saying some of the information being released by the tribes is inaccurate, detailing that the Aniak Traditional Council has not decided one way or the other. External Affairs Manager for Donlin Kristina Woolston explained that they’ve worked with the tribes for decades.

“We have been in the region for over 25 years and the majority of our employees are Alaska Natives who are from the region, who live in the communities, who go to work at our project site, who see and live every single day our commitment to a sustainable project,” Woolston said.

Woolston said the Donlin Gold project went through an extensive six-year process to gain the environmental impact statement.

“The Donlin Gold project received its federal permits in 2018 with a joint record of decision, the Environmental Impact Statement — the EIS — and it was through hundreds and hundreds of community shareholder, tribal statewide engagement and feedback,” said Woolston

Officials with Donlin claimed that the project would remove “0.4 miles” of salmon streams, not 12 miles that the statement said, and that Donlin “did not stop studying (the) environment and project effects after the EIS.”

Woolston claimed that nearly 3,000 contributions were submitted to the EIS over time, but Gavin Phillip, president of the Native village of Kwigillingok, said there are still overwhelming concerns.

“Donlin Gold cut corners in trying to obtain those permits, the water permits,” Phillip said.

Donlin Gold refutes that it cut corners, but the tribal coalition said it was told by the Army Corps of Engineers that it decided it would not revoke any permits without substantial new information.