Donlin Gold signs major wetland mitigation agreement

The proposed mine could be one of the biggest in the world — if completed. (Photo by Katie Basile/KYUK)

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. 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, spokesperson for Donlin Gold.

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. And part of that trust includes 1,000,000 acres of state land.

The trust said this is the first such agreement with a corporation. The Trust Land Office — which the trust contracts to manage its lands — 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, who is the director of the Trust Land Office, said the agreement that Donlin just signed with the trust is complicated.

“Donlin hasn’t actually purchased the whole deed restriction yet,” Menefee said. “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.’”

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 do go ahead with the mine, Donlin will pay $1.3 million to the trust to preserve 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. And Donlin plans to sign another agreement with the Great Lands Trust to purchase nine credits — the equivalent of nine acres — to protect 4.5 acres of wetlands in the Mat-Su Borough.

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