News-Miner opinion: It’s been quite the month for the two companies behind the proposed Donlin Gold project in Southwest Alaska.
It was just over a week ago that the companies — NOVAGOLD Resources Alaska Inc. and Barrick Gold US Inc. — announced that the Donlin Gold project had received two key permits from the state. One, from the Department of Environmental Conservation, is the waste management permit. The other, from the Department of Natural Resources, approves of the project’s reclamation plan, which is the process the companies will undertake to close the mine and maintain the site at the end of the mine’s estimated life of at least 27 years. For that permit, the companies had to assure the state that funds would be available for the reclamation.
And in December, Donlin Gold officials agreed to protect some wetlands owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority in the Cook Inlet area to satisfy a requirement that it offset the acreage the Donlin mine would damage. The proposed mine, which is estimated to hold 39 million ounces of gold, would disturb about 2,800 acres of Southwest Alaska wetlands but would need to find offsets for about 2,000 acres.
The wetlands agreement, according to a report from Alaska’s Energy Desk, is a first of its kind for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and requires Donlin Gold to pay $200,000 to the trust, plus additional payments each year for 10 years while the companies decide whether to proceed with the project. If they do, they will pay an additional $1.3 million to the trust to preserve 2,000 in the Cook Inlet area for 99 years.
Interior Alaska residents know well the importance of mining. The Fort Knox gold mine north of Fairbanks has continued far beyond the number of years initially expected due to expansions. That extended life has kept many people employed in high-paying jobs that in turn feed our local economy. The Pogo gold mine near Delta Junction continues to produce gold, good-paying jobs and, like Fort Knox, adding to the economy.
The latest report from the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Community Planning Department shows that 800 people were working in the mining and logging industry; the report doesn’t separate the two. And the jobs in that combined category pay well, averaging $7,859 per month in 2014. More recent data isn’t available, according to the report, due to changes that have made that data confidential.
Assuming all of the environmental safeguards are in place for the Donlin Gold project, these latest developments for the mine are good news for Alaska’s mining industry and, by extension, Alaskans and their state.