State approves pipeline lease for Donlin Gold, another step toward building the mine in Southwest Alaska

The site of the proposed Donlin Mine, 145 miles northeast of Bethel. (Dean Swope/KYUK)

The state of Alaska approved a right-of-way lease for Donlin Gold’s proposed 315-mile gas pipeline on Jan. 17. The lease is an important step forward in the company’s quest to build the Donlin Gold Mine, which could be one of the largest in the world if completed.

The Department of Natural Resources will lease the right of way for 30 years, the maximum allowed under law. Donlin Gold has said that its mine is expected to operate for nearly 28 years, possibly longer. According to the decision, the pipeline would begin near Cook Inlet and snake over more than 300 miles of federal, state, and private land through the Alaska Range. It would end approximately 10 miles north of Crooked Creek, the village closest to the mine site.

Read our continuing coverage of the Donlin Mine

Donlin Gold proposed the pipeline after residents raised concerns that barging diesel up the Kuskokwim River would increase the risk of a spill, endangering the region’s main food source. Fourteen inches in diameter, the pipeline would carry natural gas for a 220 megawatt plant that would power operations at the mine.

The decision says that the pipeline would keep more than 70 million gallons of diesel fuel off the river annually. Increased barge traffic is another concern from Y-K Delta residents, who worry that it will disturb smelt habitat. Donlin Gold has said that it will monitor smelt habitat throughout its operations.

Related: Donlin mine enjoyed years of support in Southwest Alaska, but as the project becomes more real, that’s changing

This lease comes nearly two years after the Army Corps of Engineers issued a right-of-way permit for the proposed pipeline. Earlier this month, Donlin Gold received a handful of state permits that would allow it to build an airstrip, a port, and install fiber optic cable. Donlin Gold needs more than 100 permits before it can start constructing its mine, and needs to complete a dam safety certification.

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