Donlin Gold has signed an agreement with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to protect some of the Trust's wetlands in the Cook Inlet area. The company is trying to develop one of the biggest gold mines in the world in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and the mine, if built, would disturb 2,800 acres of wetlands. Because Donlin can’t restore all of those wetlands, it is required to protect wetlands somewhere else.
This agreement is a big deal for the company if it develops the project.
"Basically what this does [is] we purchase the conservation easement on a portion of the Chuitna River, I think we’re talking 2,000 acres, so that restricts its use from any kind of development so it protects that habitat," said Kurt Parkan, Donlin Gold's spokesman.
Donlin Gold just finished a lengthy and expensive environmental review that was led by the Army Corps of Engineers. As part of that review, Donlin Gold had to lay out its plans to restore or mitigate the wetlands it would disturb. To meet mitigation requirements for the Army Corps and the state, the company proposed to protect wetlands somewhere else in Alaska, like this agreement with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is a state corporation that manages a trust that benefits Alaskans with a broad range of mental health issues. Part of that trust includes 1,000,000 acres of state land. The Trust says that this is the first such agreement with a corporation. The trust’s land office divides the land into different categories of development, and one category allows corporations to sign these mitigation agreements to help meet environmental requirements.
Wyn Menefee is the director of the Alaska Mental Heath Trust Land Office, and he says that the agreement that Donlin just signed with the trust is complicated.
"Donlin hasn’t actually purchased the whole deed restriction yet. They’ve purchased an option for purchasing a deed restriction, so essentially what we’ve done is we’ve said we will keep that available for you," Menefee said.
Under the agreement, Donlin agreed to pay $200,000 to the Trust, plus additional money each year for 10 years. That buys Donlin time to decide whether or not to go through with the mine. If they go ahead with the project, Donlin will pay $1.3 million to the Trust to protect those 2,000 acres for 99 years.
This agreement isn’t the only one Donlin has made, or will make, to mitigate impacts from the mine. Donlin also signed an agreement with the Tyonek Native Corporation for a conservation easement on 4,000 acres of land. Donlin plans to sign another agreement with the Great Land Trust to purchase nine credits, the equivalent of nine acres, to protect 4.5 acres of wetlands in the Mat-Su Borough.