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Passions Run High At Meeting On Donlin Gold Water Management

The proposed Donlin Gold mine site in 2014.
Dean Swope/KYUK

Residents met with state regulators in Bethel’s Cultural Center last night to discuss water and waste management at the proposed Donlin Gold Mine.

Officials from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) organized the meeting after drafting two of the dozens of permits that Donlin Gold will need. Both would regulate how the mine disposes of dangerous chemicals and other waste, and the DEC wants to hear from the public before finalizing its decision. 

One permit would allow 4,500 gallons per minute of treated wastewater to be dumped into Crooked Creek, and lays out the levels of contamination that would be allowed in the water. The other would regulate the pools and piles where other waste from the mine would be stored. The draft permits also specify how that waste would be monitored.

The meeting was attended by a half-dozen Donlin Gold employees and about 20 Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta residents, many of whom were concerned by the mine’s impact on fishing. Several speakers were skeptical that the wastewater pouring into Crooked Creek would be properly monitored. The DEC is stretched thin, and Donlin Gold will mostly be left to regulate itself.

Passions were running high by the end of the night. "Our people totally rely on subsistence," Evon Waska told regulators during the testimony portion of the event. "And the Kuskokwim River provides it. We are playing with our lives here!"

Not everyone was against the project. Bethel resident John Wallace told the crowd that he was concerned about the Y-K Delta’s high rates of unemployment. He added that plenty of other projects in the Y-K Delta were built at the risk of contaminating the environment, like the construction of the village’s airports.

"As a subsistence user, I'm the last person who wants to have any impact from this mine," he said. "But that said, I fear some of the comments that say, ‘not here, not any time.’ I think what we need is responsible development."

This is the second of three meetings on the permits. Regulators held the first in Aniak last week, and will host the third on Friday evening in Anchorage.