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Q&A on Donlin Gold’s Reclamation and Closure Plan

Storyknife, May/June 2019 edition

Earlier this year, the State of Alaska approved a reclamation and closure plan for the proposed Donlin Gold project. As landowners, Calista Corporation and The Kuskokwim Corporation (TKC) participated in the public process for the 568-page plan and will provide active oversight throughout the life cycle of the project.

Calista Vice President of Lands and Natural Resources (former) Rosie Barr grew up hunting and fishing in communities near the Red Dog Mine, and later became NANA’s Vice President of Lands. She still subsists in her home area, providing traditional food for her family. During her career at NANA, Rosie worked with local communities on mine operations and protection of subsistence resources. She recently sat down with Storyknife to address frequently asked questions about Donlin’s reclamation and closure plan.

What is the reclamation and closure plan for Donlin?

It’s a living document that assures Shareholders and residents of the Region that there is a plan and money in place for eventual closure of the mine. 

The State of Alaska’s rigorous permitting program requires a plan that describes how a mine will be closed and the land returned to stable condition after mining is finished, or if the mine needs to shut down prematurely. The plan includes financial bonding and a letter of credit immediately available to the state in case of an unforeseen shutdown. These plans must be approved by the State of Alaska before a mine is built and are reviewed and updated at least every five years while it is operating.

Donlin Gold’s reclamation plan, approved in January this year, proposes a creation of a long-term investment fund similar to the Permanent Fund, except instead of dividend checks, it would pay for water management, treatment, and monitoring in perpetuity after mine closure. Calista supports Donlin Gold’s proposal to invest the money in a trust fund so that we have assurance that this funding is dedicated to the mine’s environmentally safe closure.

Why is the plan updated every five years?

This is a requirement of the State’s rigorous system but in general, updating the plan is an opportunity to do better over time and adjust the plan to include new technologies and unexpected changes in site conditions. The mining industry makes continuous improvements to water treatment and management of waste rock. While Donlin is operating, we expect to learn more about the best methods for closure and gain more information on the local soil, vegetation, and the extent of our mineral resources.

Updating the plan also gives more opportunities for technical and financial analysis, and regulatory review, and it allows us to effectively respond to changes in our natural environment.

What are some important details in the plan?

First, reclamation will begin during mine operations, when Donlin Gold is ready to close specific sites such as waste rock storage areas. This allows us to evaluate aspects of the plan including the kinds of plants used for revegetation, and to reduce environmental impacts during mine operation.

Secondly, environmental monitoring will continue after closure. Donlin Gold is testing smelt right now to learn more about their life cycle, especially their spawning, but we’ll learn more during operations, and mining and reclamation methods may change over time.

Why is it important to have a plan in place prior to the mine operating?

Reclamation plans are needed before mining begins for the same reason that we need to plan before going on a hunting or boating trip. We are reminded by Elders and search and rescue groups to share travel plans with friends or family. Additionally, you need to calculate how much gas to take and pack extra food in case you get stuck in bad weather. If you don’t think about these things until after you go, it’s too late!

Anything else Shareholders should know?

Kuskokwim River communities will be informed, engaged and given opportunities to provide input—including traditional knowledge—as the project moves forward. For example, advisory committees will be formed for residents to stay in the loop on environmental monitoring, barging and subsistence.

As landowners, both Calista and TKC will provide oversight during construction, mine operations, reclamation and closure. We will be watching for improvements in mining technology, reviewing results from environmental monitoring, and providing feedback to Donlin Gold and mine regulators. We want to ensure the mine operator, who is our partner, performs to the level that we require for the safety of the environment, subsistence and our Shareholders’ lifestyle.