JUNEAU — A proposed gold mine in Western Alaska has won a key approval, with a state official rejecting an administrative law judge’s findings that the state Department of Environmental Conservation lacked “reasonable assurance” the project would meet Alaska water quality standards.
Department Commissioner Jason Brune, in a decision Thursday, defended the analyses done by the department’s Division of Water and upheld its issuance of a so-called certificate of reasonable assurance for the Donlin Gold project. Brune said the issuance was supported by “a reasonable basis in law and substantial evidence in the record.”
Brune’s decision can be challenged in court.
Olivia Glasscock, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing the Orutsararmiut Native Council, said Friday that a decision on next steps had not been made. The council had challenged the issuance of the certificate, leading to the findings last month by an administrative law judge.
Brune was not bound by those findings.
Critics of the proposed mine have raised concerns about possible impacts to water and salmon habitat.
Mark Springer, executive director of the Orutsararmiut Native Council, in a statement said the mine “would be a direct threat to water quality, to the many fish that traverse these waters, and to the Kuskokwim way of life.”
Donlin Gold LLC, in a statement, cited the scientific work that’s been done surrounding the project and said it would not operate “without demonstrated compliance with the State’s water quality standards.”
Donlin Gold said it commended the department “for standing up for responsible natural resources development which benefits all Alaskans.”
Donlin Gold has proposed an open-pit, hard-rock gold mine about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of Bethel and about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of the tiny community of Crooked Creek.
The developer has estimated the project will take three to four years to build once necessary approvals are secured and that the project could produce an average of about 1 million ounces of gold a year during operations, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Donlin Gold is owned by subsidiaries of Canada-based NOVAGOLD Resources Inc. and Barrick Gold Corp. It secured key authorizations in 2018 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.