It’s going to take Donlin Gold a little longer to get a final decision on whether they will receive the state’s right of way lease for its natural gas pipeline. The lease grants Donlin permission to build its pipeline over state-owned lands.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is reviewing its lease after Alaska Native tribes claimed that the state failed to account for the cumulative effects of the proposed 315-mile pipeline.
State officials said that they decided to review the lease after a handful of tribes raised concerns that the agency didn’t consider all the impacts from the proposed pipeline, which would stretch from Cook Inlet over the Alaska Range into the upper Kuskokwim region. Five tribes from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Southcentral regions praised the decision to review the right of way lease decision. But Alaska Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Dan Saddler said that the agency still stands behind its original decision to grant Donlin Gold the lease in January 2020.
“We hope that by additional conversation about it, we can make that clear to everybody. So we're just taking more time to make sure that everyone agrees with the decision we made, and to give you an opportunity to read more thoroughly and to comment again, if they'd like to,” Saddler said.
The pipeline is part of the massive infrastructure that Donlin Gold needs to build before it can start operating its mine. The pipeline would ship natural gas from Cook Inlet up to the mine site, where it would fuel a power plant that would power Donlin’s operations. Donlin Gold has said that residents in nearby villages could tap the pipeline to fuel their homes instead of relying on expensive diesel fuel, but the tribes that object to the plan say that the pipeline is too risky. The pipeline would cross streams that could house fish, and the construction and operation could possibly hurt subsistence hunting and fishing.
Mark Springer, the executive director of the Orutsararmiut Native Council in Bethel, praised the decision to review the lease again. Springer said that the outcome ONC ultimately wants is no mine at all. But Saddler said that the agency’s regulatory structure is not designed to stop the mine from moving forward, since the goal is to make sure that developers meet the requirements of the permits.
“The public gets a chance to offer the opportunity to comment, but we can't guarantee that everyone's going get through their own way all the time,” Saddler said.
So far, DNR is only accepting public comments and has no plans to schedule a public hearing. Saddler said that the state has already gone above and beyond with 11 public hearings concerning the pipeline.
“There is no statutory requirement to have more public hearings on the remand decision,” Saddler said.
The public has until Nov. 9, 2020 to submit their written comments to DNR. Saddler said that people need to focus on how DNR considered the cumulative impacts of the pipeline in their comments.