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Judge Recommends State Not Uphold Donlin Mine Water Certificate

Public comments for the water quality certification permit for the Donlin gold mine are due July 13.

On April 12, an Administrative Law judge issued a recommendation that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation not uphold a water certificate issued to the Donlin Gold mine.

The Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation will make the final decision on the matter. 

The state initially issued what’s called a "certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018. It said that the state had reasonable assurance that Donlin’s operations would comply with state water standards. It’s attached to one of the biggest state permits Donlin needs before it can begin constructing and operating its gold mine. Donlin Gold needs more than 100 permits for its operations. 

The Orutsararmiut Native Council challenged that certificate, contending that the state cannot have “reasonable assurance” that the mine won’t violate these standards. Specifically, the tribe said that the state cannot guarantee that the mining operations will maintain Alaska’s environmental standards for mercury levels, water temperature, and fish habitat.

Administrative Law Judge Kent Sullivan agreed. "Salmon and salmon habitat in a large segment of Crooked Creek will be significantly and detrimentally impacted by the project,” Sullivan wrote in his proposed decision.

The three parties involved in the case, Orutsararmiut Native Council, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and Donlin Gold, have until May 5 to respond to the judge’s recommendation.

Correction: The first reference to the judge in the story has been corrected to say “Administrative Law judge.” A previous version of this story incorrectly labeled the judge as a “state judge.”

Anna Rose MacArthur served as KYUK's News Director from 2015-2022.
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