Gold seekers with big plans for Nome area – including TV show – draw opposition

An unprecedented gold-dredging project near Nome is being opposed by groups that fear it is so large it would threaten subsistence hunters, salmon and other wildlife.

The proposal by California-based Rivers of Gold, which also plans to create a reality TV show and luxury gold brand, called for a massive amount of dredging using a large processing barge and high-tech gearaccording to company marketing videos posted in 2017 on YouTube.

One video claimed the operation could process enough sand and gravel in four months to fill the Rose Bowl. A company related to Rivers of Gold, named IPOP, recently applied for a state permit to dredge in Bonanza Channel in Safety Sound and a nearby lagoon.

Officials working for the project about 25 miles east of Nome stressed this week it will meet regulatory requirements following input from local residents.

Opponents fear the dredging would create excessive noise and a massive cloud of turbidity in the water as tailings are released, driving away salmon, seals, migratory birds and other animals that hunters depend on for food.

Safety Sound has never been dredged, but dredging took place in the lower Solomon River until 1963, U.S. Geological Survey records indicate. The Solomon is one of two rivers draining into Bonanza Channel.

The project is working to address environmental concerns as it begins the effort to acquire state and federal permits, said Michelle Johnson with Alaska Earth Sciences geologic consulting firm, hired to help the project with initial permitting work.


Johnson said the original June 1 start date could be pushed back.

Charlene Bringhurst, natural resource specialist with the state's Fairbanks mining section, said the state is reviewing the project's April 4 application and working closely with Nome-area residents.

"The big concern is the subsistence users, in Safety Sound and the surrounding area," she said of the state's review.

Kawerak, the regional Native nonprofit, and the Northern Norton Sound Fish and Game Advisory Committee have sent letters to state regulators opposing the project, as reported by radio station KNOM.

The underwater cloud created by the operation would act like an "iron curtain" the salmon could not get past, halting their return to rivers feeding into the sound, said Brandon Ahmasuk, Kawerak's subsistence resources program manager.

He said state and federal agencies have a limited enforcement presence in the area. Some offshore dredgers that have operated elsewhere in the region don't always follow rules, such as maintaining a safe distance from fishing nets extending off banks.

"Who will police them?" he said of IPOP.

J.P. Tangen, an attorney for IPOP, said Wednesday the company plans to process a lot of sand and gravel in pursuit of gold.

Tangen said IPOP's thesis is: "To be profitable they have to move a lot of material efficiently."

But there will be no stadium-sized pile of material left behind, and tailings will be properly distributed beneath the water, he said.

Any tailings piles will be leveled to blend into the bottom of the channel, the company's application says.

"They won't have a big pile of waste on the shore, or even in the water," Tangen said. "They'll pick up the material, process it through the plant (on the barge) and restore it to where they picked it up, and they'll keep moving."

Ahmasuk said the channel will likely be modified during the process and fish runs could be devastated for a long time.

Rivers of Gold's marketing videos seeking investors said the dredging would start June 1 and continue into October.

But the start date might not be met, said Johnson.

"That's our goal, but we recognize sometimes goals take longer to achieve," she said.

Other necessary permits include one from the Army Corps of Engineers, a process that could take more than six months, Johnson said Tuesday. She said the project hasn't yet filed for that permit but is preparing to do so.


Operations may need to start small and progress in phases in order to reduce environmental impacts, Johnson said.

The reality TV show about the project and the luxury brand of gold items remain as possibilities, she said.

"They're keeping their options open," she said of the company.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or