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Two Y-K Delta tribes appeal to the Alaska Superior Court in attempt to block Donlin Gold water permits

Geological samples at the Donlin Gold mine site on Aug. 19, 2017.
Katie Basile
/
KYUK
Geological samples at the Donlin Gold mine site on Aug. 19, 2017.

Two Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta tribes are turning to the Alaska Superior Court in their latest attempt to block the proposed Donlin Gold mine from moving forward.

The Orutsararmiut Native Council (ONC) in Bethel and the Native Village of Eek are appealing the decision from Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corrie Feige to issue Donlin Gold a dozen water rights permits. These permits would allow Donlin to pump up ground, river, and creek water for mining operations.

The tribes are represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice and have exhausted their appeals through the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. They have decided to take it to the Alaska Superior Court.

The tribes’ appeal rests on two points. It says that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has violated the Alaska Constitution by failing to consider the “cumulative impacts” of the mining project. And the appeal calls the permitting decision “arbitrary” because it “failed to consider the creation of and appropriation of water for the pit lake treatment works.”

In a statement Donlin Gold General Manager Dan Graham wrote: “The [Donlin] Project will protect the Kuskokwim River and the natural foods it puts on people’s tables while providing strong economic prosperity to residents.” He says that Donlin believes the state’s decision to issue the permits “was based on careful review and strong science.”

"How can we support the dewatering of our streams and polluting of our lands, water, and air under the claim that these actions will benefit our Tribe and our people?” ONC Acting Executive Director Calvin Cockroft wrote in a counter statement. “We will continue to argue this until someone is willing to listen.”

ONC could also appeal another decision regarding Donlin Gold from a different state agency. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reaffirmed its decision to grant Donlin Gold a water quality certificate. That certificate is required for Donlin Gold to conduct its mining operations under the federal Clean Water Act.

ONC has also exhausted its appeal process through the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on that water quality certificate. Neither ONC nor Earthjustice has said whether it plans to appeal the Donlin water quality decision to the Alaska Superior Court as well.

Updated: June 3, 2022 at 3:54 PM AKDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from ONC Acting Executive Director Calvin Cockroft.
Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.
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