Donlin Gold Scoping Meeting Comments For St. Marys, Emmonak, Holy Cross & Kipnuk Available

You can find scoping meeting comments for the villages of St. Marys, Emmonak, Holy Cross and Kipnuk at the following link:

The first round of scoping officially ended on March 29th.  However, the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is expected to come out in August of 2014.  The draft should address the issues that arose during this initial comment period.

You will still have a chance to comment once the DEIS is released next summer so follow the progress on the official Donlin Gold EIS website at


Logging Crew Preps For Work Near Kalskag

The crew made it safely to Kalskag where they’ll be harvesting timber in the coming months – now they’re just gearing up for a busy season to get what they can get done before break-up.

Building an approach from the river's edge to the timber.

Even with extensive augering to test the thickness of the ice, there were still some near misses!

The finished approach.

Clearing the camp location.

Getting camp set up.

Is that all there is for lunch!


Napaimute Crew Moves Logging Equipment From Napaimute Downriver To Near Kalskag

The week of February 18-22nd was spent moving logging and camp equipment down to Kalskag over the frozen Kuskokwim River.

For a video of the move from Napaimute to Aniak check out:

The crew experienced wind, deep snow and rough ice conditions up near Anita Gertz’ place between Napaimute and Chuathbaluk.

The tire chains helped - but at times were no match for the conditions.

Part of the convoy negotiating the scenic stretch.

Jacob Wise providing support on snow machine.

Approaching the half way point - Aniak.

Oscar coordinating with Mark on the cell phone while Joey and Jacob stand by.

The crew working on the smoothing out the ice road between Chuathbaluk and Aniak.

Getting ready to pass through Aniak on their way down to Kalskag.

Making sure everyone and all the gear is accounted for!

Bruce Waskey taking care of business.

Gassing up the rigs.

Hurry up and take the picture so we can go to the Hound House for burgers!





Army Corps Of Engineers’ Donlin Gold Public Scoping Meeting Presentation

Here is the presentation by the COE for the upcoming public scoping meetings that will begin on Monday, January 14 in Bethel – then Aniak on the 15th and Crooked Creek on the 16th and continue through March in other locations. To see the entire presentation, click on the following link.    ScopingMtgPresJan14_2013

Regional Scoping Meetings for the Donlin Gold EIS are Fast Approaching

This will be your opportunity to keep abreast of the project’s events as they unfold and get involved by providing your comments and expressing any concerns you might have.

Here is the link for the official Donlin Gold EIS Get Involved Page.

Meetings for the Donlin Gold EIS will be held in following communities:

Monday, January 14, 2013
6:00 p.m.
Yup’iit Piciryarait Cultural Center

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
6:00 p.m.
Aniak High School

Crooked Creek
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
6:00 p.m.
Tribal Council Office

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
6:00 p.m.
Wilda Marston Theatre

Upcoming meetings include:

January/February 2013
Quinhagak • Kipnuk • Nunapitchuk • Akiak

February 2013
Toksook Bay • Hooper Bay • Emmonak • Saint Mary’s

March 2013
Holy Cross • McGrath

A Tour Of Barrick’s Golden Sunlight Mine In Montana

I recently returned from a Donlin Gold sponsored tour of the Golden Sunlight mine just a few miles outside of a small ranching town in Montana called Whitehall.  The operating mine is about 50 miles west of Bozeman, which is about 90 miles to the north of Yellowstone National Park.  The mine is presently owned by Barrick and has been in operation for over 30 years and is a typical open-pit truck and shovel operation – similar to what Donlin Gold would be.

From all indications the mine appears to be situated in a location that couldn’t be better.  For starters, the climate is relatively dry, with average precipitation about 10 inches a year.  It’s also not far from a major highway – Highway 90 that connects Bozeman with Butte and Missoula to the west and Billings to the east; you can see a good portion of the mine from the highway (see photo below).  Logistically, the proximately to infrastructure such as a power grid and highway make operations like this relatively easy compared to one in remote Alaska that has virtually none.

Looking from the highway at the waste rock storage area

Secondly, most locals who reside in the area are very glad the mine is where it is – in part because it employs a good many local residents, over 200 in the town of a little over 1,100 people.  Not only does the mine provide direct employment, it also requires the services of about 70 contractors (who hire many others) who carry out much of the work.

Upon arrival at the Bozeman airport Kurt Parkan with Donlin Gold and Bill Bieber with Barrick were there to greet us and shuttle us to our hotel.  Bill pointed out that the Golden Sunlight mine was the first mine he ever worked at – he grew up in Whitehall and still has family there.

After the long flight and a short’s night rest the group travelled the following day to Whitehall and observed one of the monthly meetings of the group called the Community Transition Advisory Committee, or CTAC for short.  This group is comprised of local community members, e.g., representatives of the chamber of commerce; county commissions; Fish Wildlife and Parks which is similar to ADF&G; the local college; the local development corporation; the school district; bank; several local landowners and various mine managers.  The intent is to have a representative cross section of the community.

One of the members, a county extension agent, came to Bethel several years ago to speak about the ongoing mine operations at an AVCP Convention while another used to live in St. Marys.

The group was established about ten years ago with the purpose of regularly communicating the happenings of the mine to local residents; in other words an information conduit.  It was originally started when it appeared that the mine life would be coming to an end and the community leaders feared that the mine would be typical of many boom and bust resource extraction projects like are common in the western part of the lower 48.  They wanted as smooth a transition as possible to offset the large economic void left when the mine does eventually cease operations.

During the meeting it was noted that Barrick has done a lot for the community and that one of their guiding principles is sustainable development….even after the closure of the mine; the goal here being to build economic and social capacity throughout the region.  Several times during the meeting it was noted that safety in all aspects of the operation is one of Barrick’s highest priorities, and that they have worked to transfer that ethic throughout the community via safety fairs and other means.

Several of the local residents expressed a sincere trust between the community members and the managers of the mine.  It seems that the mine’s personnel and the local residents have a very good working relationship.  Not only are those 200+ residents employed by the mine, but a good portion of the managers are thoroughly involved in civic activities.

The second day of our trip was the actual tour of the mine facilities.  We first sat through a safety briefing and then a presentation about the workings of the mine.  During the mine’s life around 3.2 million ounces of gold has been recovered from 64 million tons of ore that have been blasted, trucked and processed in one way or another.  To date about 2,300 acres of land have been disturbed, much of which has already been reclaimed (we did see some wildlife; i.e., deer in and around the reclaimed areas).

If you look closely in the center of the picture you'll see a mule deer - there were three others on the other side of the road we were traveling on.

During the presentation our group asked many good questions, specifically about the similarities and differences between what we were about to see and the proposed Donlin mine.  Most obvious to us was the difference in climate, Montana’s being very dry compared to the Kuskokwim – especially after the past three excessively wet summers!

All operating mines use water, and usually vast quantities of it to process the gold – especially the milling process.

One of the many leaching vats

Both mines are, or will be, what’s called zero discharge meaning that no surface or ground water within the mine’s working perimeter is allowed to enter any streams downstream of the mine itself during the mine’s operation.

Consequently, mining operations have to deal with what’s called a water budget or water balance, and that can be tricky because it’s all contingent on weather conditions…which at best are unpredictable.

A Golden Sunlight representative said that their 10 inches of annual precipitation actually works to their advantage because lots of water flowing through, and around, acid generating ore is problematic. If there was more water then they could handle say from a tremendous amount of snow in a given year, or an exceptionally rainy summer, the probability of acid mine drainage getting into the downstream waters would greatly increase.

According to Bill Bieber, even though our region averages over twice as much precipitation a year, the needs for water at Donlin are such that they will still have to capture every possible drop they can (Crooked Creek averages 15.5” of precipitation a year).  All mines, in order to minimize their water consumption, recycle as much as they can again and again and again.

But such an operation like Donlin will prevent a certain amount of water from entering the streams below (e.g., snowmelt in the spring and rain runoff during the summer).  And it goes without saying, but fish do need a certain amount of water to survive; the less water the less productive the system will be.  It will be interesting to watch just how low Crooked Creek gets in the coming years if the mine goes into production – especially low water years.

Another difference noted was the amount of land that will be disturbed.  It’s uncertain how large Donlin will eventually be, but there is the potential for it to be mind-boggling.  In all sincerity, some mining officials believe from analyzing the exploration data that it could be the world’s largest!  So everything we saw in Montana would be amplified several times, which to be honest, is a little disconcerting.

The height of the tailings dams at both Fort Knox in Fairbanks and in Montana were impressive, but Donlin’s will be that much bigger and holding that much more potentially acid generating material behind them…magnitudes more.  During the tour one geologic plus was noted, and that is that there tends to be a fair amount of naturally occurring carbonate minerals up behind Crooked Creek that could lessen the potential for acid drainage problems by neutralizing much of the acid.

With any mining project, it’s dealing with the tailings that is the most significant environmental challenge.  One thing I learned about tailings impoundments is that they’re designed to hold mostly sand sized processed ore and relatively little water compared to a normal dam; knowing that did allay some of my fears.  Why they don’t hold much water is that, as already mentioned, most of the water going into a tailings impoundment is constantly being recycled back up to be used in the milling process.

Golden Sunlight's tailings impoundment - note the relatively little water in the background

Although these dams are designed to withstand the probable maximum precipitation and large earthquake events, it was noted that the biggest causes of dam failure are overtopping by water and seismic activity – in that order.  So unfortunately, there are no real assurances that there won’t be any problems since nature and its concomitant weather are factors.

In the following pictures you’ll see the plastic liner that will be used to potentially prevent acid mine drainage from seeping through – or out – of the tailings impoundment.  It’s 80-mil thick (a little thicker than a quarter) and will be placed over the entire bottom and sides of the impoundment with pieces spliced together to make it one gigantic impermeable layer.  Unfortunately, liners aren’t forever, so no one knows for sure just how effective they’ll be hundreds of years from now.


A portion of the liner being placed on the side of the tailings impoundment

If liners do fail, which has happened, it’s usually from improper installation or mechanical damage; i.e., a piece of machinery puncturing it.

It is highly unlikely that no acid mine drainage will seep from such an impoundment; so smaller backup impoundments are built to gather the seepage and pump it back up into the main impoundment.  At the Golden Sunlight mine there are three such catchments.

Acid seepage from Golden Sunlight's tailings impoundment


A backup catchment pond pumping water back up to the main impoundment facility

Upon completion of the Donlin project, it’s expected that the tailings facility contents will stabilize and eventually look and function very much like a meadow.  To make that happen they’ll recontour the surface and cover it with three or more feet of topsoil and then plant native vegetation.  It’s also expected that, over time, the concern for any toxic seepage from the tailings impoundment will diminish.

One thing that is forever, however, will be the need to monitor the water leaving the pit once it fills up…which could take 50 or more years.  Here’s a few pictures looking into the Golden Sunlight pit, which as noted will be much smaller than the one planned for Donlin.

Looking across toward the top of the pit


Looking half way down the pit at a truck carrying blasted ore to the processing mill

And looking at the bottom of the pit. Note the water and acid mine drainage seeping from the pit walls. This is indicative of why the water will have to be monitored for its quality for perpetuity...which is forever.

Similar to the Fort Knox mine in Fairbanks, there was little concern for mercury being emitted at the Golden Sunlight mine, but that’s not the case at Donlin.  Since there was little to no concern at either site, very little discussion ensued – so we’ll leave that topic for a later discussion, however.

The official permitting process for the Donlin Gold project will soon begin now that Donlin Gold has formally submitted their application to the Department of Natural Resources.  Now’s the time to pay attention to what exactly is proposed and express your concerns during the public involvement process.

As time goes on we’ll keep you posted on this site as to what’s happening during that process.


Dave Cannon

Environmental Director



A Fishing Season To Remember…Or Forget by Mark Leary

The Politics of Fish: Doing What’s Right – Not What’s Popular

It’s been a summer to remember – or maybe to forget. Days and days of bad weather, high water in the River, and a disastrous King Salmon Season.

We are still dealing with the effects (the politics) of this disastrous King Salmon season, but as winter comes closer the People will have persevered and filled their freezers with the many other kinds of food still abundant in our waters and on our lands: Chums, Reds, Silvers, whitefish, waterfowl, berries, moose, bear, beaver, etc. I know my family’s own freezers are full. Nobody’s going to starve as some lamented back in June. This is 2012 – not 1912.

In my own small life, I’ve had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with Elders from the Lower, Middle, and Upper Kuskokwim, as well as the Middle Yukon. I don’t know what they saw in me – maybe it was the immense respect a young guy had for the way they used to live – and the countless hours he spent just listening. From them I learned about a way of life that was hard, but independent. “They didn’t depend on nobody”. They got almost everything they needed from the land and waters around them – some stuff they got from the traders, but the time when their parents and grandparents got everything off the land was still in their memories. Also in their memories were times when there were fish and game shortages; sometimes due to bad weather patterns, sometimes simply due to the natural fluctuations of wildlife. They always adapted, found other things to eat, did what they had to do to survive.  They had to. There was nobody else to help them except themselves. No “Disaster Declarations”. No QUEST CARDS. Yet, there were times when some didn’t make it – stories of starvation – but those stories are from a very distant time.

Does anyone remember how they used to catch salmon in the main river in traditional times?

…Before the introduction of the deadly 50 fathom, 8″ mesh nets we use now.

The way I’ve been told that Middle and Upper River People fished was with large taluyaqs and elaborate fences reaching out from the shore – all made from split spruce wood, tied with spruce roots. The People also used short handmade nets either set or drifted from their canoes or qayaqs. Although both methods would have been less effective in a high water year like this one, they did the job.

This year in the traditional spirit of adapting to circumstances, one industrious family that I know of cut, smoked and dried over 140 silvers during August. It can be done. It takes changing the normal ways of doing things and a little more work, but isn’t that what the strong People of our region are famous for: persevering and adapting. If it wasn’t true, the People would have starved long ago and there would be nobody left in our region today. Instead we are flourishing.

And it makes me sad that while we’ve made heroes out of the 31 people that fished in protest during the subsistence King Salmon fishing closures, nobody has ever talked about the real heroes of the 2012 King Salmon season: the hundreds, maybe thousands of people that didn’t fish. These were the people that could see beyond the “right now” and truly thought about our children and grandchildren by not fishing. These are the heroes to me – the people that stuck together and endured the hardship of not fishing for King Salmon so that we could conserve what little there was for our future generations.

During the subsistence closures I talked to an Elder in Aniak who said to me, “We needed this. We needed to feel this pain. When I was growing up we were thankful for every fish – not just King Salmon. We’ve become spoiled”

In Napaimute we could have fished all we wanted – there was nobody watching – except my own children.  They were watching what I was going to do while the People in the Lower River were in turmoil over not being able to fish. But I told my kids, “We won’t fish. We’ll follow the closures. We’ll do this for you and your kids.” Thinking about what that Aniak Elder said we put up more Chums and Reds to make up for the shortage of Kings and were thankful for them all. It was a hard, sad season for us – as it was for everyone along the River. My Wife commented over and over again throughout the summer, “Gee, I only cut fish one day all summer.” That was on our best day of fishing. On the other days our daughters took care of the few fish we were able to get.

We never see our Women happier than when they are cutting fish. I used to tell my kids, “You’ll never see your Mom happier than when She’s cutting fish – even happier than when She’s shopping!”

I do believe it’s true that there are many other factors hurting our King Salmon runs – especially out in the ocean. (Something else to consider is the unlimited mesh gear used in subsistence that selects for the BIG females- because it is shown to have had an impact on the Yukon). I don’t believe that the blame falls all on one factor, but is most likely a combination of things. There’s so much we don’t yet know about the salmon.

But the fact is that once the run returns to the River, no matter what happened out in the high seas, or who’s to blame, that’s all there is … and it has to be managed accordingly to get some of them home to spawn.

It doesn’t seem fair that the People of the River have to bear this brunt of management and, in times of low returns – restrictions, but until we fully understand the who and how of what is happening to the salmon out in the ocean there doesn’t seem to be another way.

Now the Alaska Department of Fish & Game is proposing to LOWER escapement goals for King Salmon on Kuskokwim River tributaries and to establish a drainage wide escapement goal for King Salmon. I don’t have a good understanding yet of why they want to do this, but I suspect it’s a reaction to the immense amount of public pressure put on the Department to allow People to fish during the 2012 subsistence King Salmon season.

The entire Kuskokwim King Salmon Escapement Goal was 127,000. When it became clear that the King run was weak and it would be difficult or impossible to meet this escapement goal, previously agreed upon subsistence restrictions had to be implemented.

With LOWER escapement goals there would be more opportunity for subsistence fishing and less chance of fishing restrictions. Sounds like what we all want right?


Seems like we would always want as many Kings to spawn as possible, otherwise we would be slowly killing the fishery.

How much confidence is there that the proposed escapement goals will sustain King Salmon runs for our future generations? What are the social and biological effects of these proposed escapement goals? In order to make an informed decision that will affect our future generations we need to be informed about how our resources and how our People will be affected. In addition, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has put in a “place holder” proposal to the Board of Fisheries for a Kuskokwim River Salmon Rebuilding Management Plan.  Language in the proposal brings question to ADF&G’s intentions.  Here’s what they have proposed:

If the king salmon run is projected to be inadequate to meet escapement goals and to provide for a reasonable subsistence opportunity, and if the commissioner determines that there is a harvestable surplus of chum salmon sufficient to provide for escapement needs and a reasonable opportunity for subsistence, the commissioner may, by emergency order, open a directed chum fishery and the department shall manage to the extent practical, the commercial chum salmon fishery to minimize the harvest of king salmon.

This proposal has not yet been discussed with Tribes or the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.

At the 48th Annual AVCP Convention this proposed lowering of the Kuskokwim King Salmon Escapement Goals was discussed and addressed through resolution. At this time AVCP is asking for a delay to change to escapement goals to allow adequate time for a review of the data and analysis, for Tribes, who depend on the Kuskokwim Chinook stocks, to be adequately informed and involved in the decision making process, and for a Kuskokwim River Chinook Salmon Management Plan to be developed with stakeholders from along the river.

I’m confident that Napaimute’s leadership will support this position to adequately inform and involve our Tribes in the decision making process, but we all must understand that by keeping the escapement goals for King Salmon high, we will also be accepting the fact that when runs are low there will be the likelihood of restrictions being put on Kuskokwim Subsistence Fishing again.

It’s easy to agree to something now when King Salmon fishing isn’t a priority – like we all did last spring when the plan for implementing restrictions in case the King run was weak was first proposed.

But when the going gets tough – if the Kuskokwim King run is weak again – will we truly ALL stick together?

In 2012, 31 fishermen didn’t stick with us…

…now they’re famous…

…and the rest of us have been forgotten.

As was stated at the AVCP Convention by keynote speaker and Tribal leader Billy Frank: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

We either ALL fish or we ALL don’t fish.

A King Salmon Management Plan, if developed with people from all along the river working together, could be designed to incorporate the needs of the people.  It could address concerns like maintaining adequate densities of fish upriver or allowing for some limited opportunity to harvest kings for subsistence along the river even in low abundance years to avoid a situation like 2012.  Now, this winter season, is the time for us to work together on these king salmon conservation issues and to address our concerns before the salmon begin entering the river next year.

Thank you.

Mark Leary

Annual Meeting Date Changed To October 2nd – 6:00 PM

P. O. Box 1301

Bethel, AK. 99559

Ph: (907)543-2887(Bet.) / (907)222-5058 or 222-6084 (Nap.)

(907) 545-2877 (Cell)




2012 Annual Meeting Schedule Change:


Due to scheduling conflicts and to better coordinate with the 2012 AVCP Convention, the Native Village of Napaimute Annual Meeting has been moved back a day.

The 2012 Native Village of Napaimute Annual Meeting will be held at the Allanivik Hotel Conference Room, 1220 State Highway in Bethel on October 2, 2012 beginning with a potluck dinner at 6 PM.

The meeting will start after the meal.     All tribal members and Napaimute community members are welcome to attend.

Please bring a dish.

There will be cash door prize drawings for those who attend in person.

Thank you.

Forestry Progress In Napaimute

Bark beetle larva

Calculating tree heights

Eric ages a 150 year old tree

Ben points out a beetle damaged area


Real Progress Is Being Made


A total of 5 foresters representing several organizations have visited Napaimute this summer to observe our timber harvesting operation and to provide technical assistance. This might be some kind of record for forester visits to a community – especially for the Middle Kuskokwim.

Most recently, Rick Jandreau from the State of Alaska Division of Forestry and Ben Seifert and Eric Geisler with BLM Alaska spent 3 days with us. It was, once again, very rewarding to spend time with professional people with vast expertise in the field of forestry. Many things were learned during these 3 days that can be applied to future timber harvests in the Middle Kuskokwim by Napaimute personnel.

The first day the three foresters spent observing our timber operation. We were fortunate that there was a barge in Napaimute to pick up wood so they got to see the end product of all our work: barge loads of locally harvested wood heading for customers on the Coast. Later, they spent time with Administration reviewing draft timber sales agreements our Council is currently considering. Since this was the first time Napaimute’s leadership has looked at a timber sales agreement for areas beyond tribally-owned lands, their input was especially valuable.

The second day they observed the actual timber harvest and spent time talking with our crew about ways to improve the harvest and how to better manage the slash (branches, brush, etc.) for better natural regeneration. The remainder of the day was spent looking at additional parcels available for timber harvest in the immediate Napaimute area.

Day 3 was long day on the River and in the woods as we all traveled downriver to look at potential timber harvest  parcels on State and BLM land. Working side by side with the Foresters, our Environmental Director and I learned much about our forest resources that we weren’t aware of before. We learned how to calculate the volume of timber per acre by doing a 1/10 acre sample plot – trees in this relatively small area are counted and their diameters and heights are measured. Comparing this small sample to aerial photographs, foresters can accurately determine the volume of timber over a particular area. In addition, they aged some of the trees to examine their health and to determine where they are in their life span (many were at least 150 years old).

We also learned to recognize the signs of bark beetles attacking spruce trees; numerous trees were observed with bark beetle damage in each of the different areas we covered.

All in all these were very valuable days as our knowledge about the Middle Kuskokwim forest resources grew and will result in better manage of our local resources.

We sincerely appreciate the time Rick, Ben, and Eric spent with us.

Thank you.

Bark beetle damage

Measuring diameter