– George Alexie, President of the Native Village of Eek, a federally recognized Tribal government whose members reside downstream from where the Donlin mine would be located
More than half the annual subsistence harvest for people in this region consists of salmon. The fish are caught, prepared by hand, and preserved to feed families throughout the year. There are five species of salmon in the Kuskokwim, and other kinds of fish — such as rainbow smelt, whitefish, and trout — are also plentiful.
The Donlin mine would permanently alter this way of life.
Mercury deposits into surface waters would increase to dangerous levels, likely making the waters toxic for fish and the fish unsafe for consumption. Exposure to mercury — an extremely toxic substance — is known to cause significant and irreversible health issues.
If built, the Donlin Gold mine would provide the infrastructure to enable other mining projects, potentially turning southwest Alaska into a massive mining district.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Alaska Native Tribes who live downstream from the proposed mine site are facing off against the existential threat the Donlin Gold mine poses.
Tribal citizen of Orutsararmiut Native Council and community activist
“In rural Alaska, our shelves will never be empty so long as we protect our waters and our land.”
- The Donlin mine will result in a 40% increase in mercury deposition to surface waters near the mine, an increase over already high background levels.
- Once in the environment, mercury can be transformed into methylmercury, a toxic substance that bioaccumulates up the food chain — particularly in fish. Bioaccumulation occurs when a chemical accumulates in the body tissue of organisms and increases in concentration at higher levels of the food chain as the organisms are consumed, including into the bodies of people who eat those food sources.
- The State of Alaska’s draft Health Impact Assessment for the Donlin mine explains, “[m]ethyl mercury … accumulates in the tissues of fish with larger and older fish having higher levels of methyl mercury. At high levels, mercury is a neurotoxin that can impair neurological development of fetuses, infants, and children.”
Tailings Dam in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
- The mine would also require a 471-foot tailings dam to store nearly 600 million tons of mining waste.
- The dam would need to stand in perpetuity.
- If the dam ever failed, the release of these toxic materials would cause catastrophic damage to both Crooked Creek and the Kuskokwim River.
Hazardous Mine Pit Lake in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
- Donlin Gold would create a 1,850-foot-deep pit lake containing arsenic, mercury, selenium, and other metals. The hazardous lake would cover two square miles — the equivalent of nearly 1,000 U.S. football fields.
- Since these toxic chemicals are so dangerous and cannot enter the surrounding environment without disastrous consequences, Donlin would be required to operate a wastewater treatment plant for all time — even after the mine closes — saddling future generations with the burden and risk.
- If that treatment system were to fail, these toxic metals would pollute Crooked Creek and the Kuskokwim River.
Dewatering Salmon Streams of Crooked Creek
- The mine will dewater an 11-mile section of Crooked Creek, destroying salmon eggs and raising the temperature of the stream.
Wetlands Destruction in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
- The mine would permanently destroy 2,877 acres of wetlands and more than 30 miles of streams.
Barge Traffic on Kuskokwim River
- Mine operations would at least triple the number of barges on the Kuskokwim River in the summer, and require barges up to four times larger than the ones used today.
- Some would carry diesel, cyanide, mercury, and other chemicals.
- Barge traffic would cause significant interference with traditional hunting and fishing practices on the Kuskokwim River.
- Propeller wash from the barges could destroy the eggs of rainbow smelt returning to the Kuskokwim to spawn, threatening the first abundant source of fresh fish of the year.
Fossil Fuel Pipeline and Climate Pollution
- To power mine operations, Donlin Gold will build a 316-mile-long natural gas pipeline through fragile wetlands.
- At a time when Alaska is warming faster than other places across the globe due to climate change, this new pipeline would only worsen greenhouse gas pollution.
- The Donlin mine itself would emit substantially more greenhouse gases than existing mines in Alaska, accelerating climate change.
Earthjustice is representing numerous Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribes and the conservation group Cook Inletkeeper in efforts to oppose the mine, including in legal challenges to key permits that have allowed the mine to advance.