The Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council (ONC), a federally recognized Tribe based in Bethel, took legal action today to protect the Kuskokwim River and its tributaries from the irreversible damage that will be caused by the Donlin Gold Mine. ONC filed a Notice of Appeal in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage, challenging Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Jason Brune’s decision to uphold a water-quality permit. Under the Clean Water Act, DEC’s Division of Water must issue the permit, known as a “Certificate of Reasonable Assurance,” before development of Donlin Gold, LLC’s prospect near Crooked Creek can proceed.
In April, Administrative Law Judge Z. Kent Sullivan issued a ruling in favor of ONC finding that the permit should never have been issued and concurring with the findings of the Final Environmental Impact Statement noting that the mine would lead to numerous violations of state water quality standards. Of particular concern are the destruction of fish habitat and expected exceedances for mercury and water temperature, which will harm fish populations and thus impact food security for Tribal members who rely on wild-caught fish as a primary food source.
“ONC is disappointed that the DEC Commissioner chose to ignore the well-reasoned ruling issued by Administrative Law Judge Sullivan, but we will continue to fight for the salmon, smelt, and indeed for the entire Kuskokwim ecosystem,” said ONC Executive Director Mark Springer.
“Putting the world’s largest pure gold mine in the Kuskokwim River watershed would have devastating effects on water quality, subsistence fishing, and a way of life,” said Tom Waldo, an Earthjustice attorney representing ONC. “It is also illegal. It will violate Alaska’s water quality standards, and we will use the power of the law to prevent Donlin from polluting these waters.”