Judge recommends state not uphold Donlin mine water certificate

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

A state judge recommended the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation not uphold a water certificate issued to the Donlin Gold mine in Western Alaska.

The final decision on the matter will rest with Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune.

The state initially issued a “certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018, saying the state had reasonable assurance Donlin’s operations would comply with state water standards. The certificate is a precursor to one of the biggest state permits Donlin needs before it can begin constructing and operating its gold mine, which requires more than 100 state permits to operate. 

The Orutsararmiut Native Council challenged the certificate, contending the state cannot have “reasonable assurance” the mine won’t violate water standards. Specifically, the tribe said the state can’t guarantee Donlin Gold will maintain Alaska’s environmental standards for mercury levels, water temperature and fish habitat.

Administrative Law Judge Kent Sullivan agreed in his Monday opinion.

“Salmon and salmon habitat in a large segment of Crooked Creek will be significantly and detrimentally impacted by the project,” Sullivan wrote in his proposed decision.

The three parties involved in the case, Orutsararmiut Native Council, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Donlin Gold, have until May 5 to respond to the judge’s recommendation.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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