IPOP submits amended permit application
IPOP LLC, pushing a controversial mining project to dredge for gold in Bonanza Channel and Safety Sound, has submitted an amendment to their permit application to the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 1.
According to John Budnik, spokesperson for the Army Corps, a permit decision has not been made on the existing IPOP application that sought to mine the estuary waters of Bonanza Channel for gold and the evaluation process continues.
They Corps has received 350 comments after a public comment period that ended in late September. Asked how many of the comments were in support of the project, the Corps declined to give a direct answer. “Many of the comments that we received touched upon community concerns with impacts to subsistence resources and access; the eco-tourism industry (birdwatching, specifically); and comments of support for the economic benefits. While we will use all the comments received to inform our decision-making process within the applicable laws and regulations of our authorities, the public comment period does not serve as a vote,” the Corps’ spokesperson replied. During a virtual public meeting held in November, not one comment spoke in favor of the project.
The Corps needed more information from IPOP in regard to Endangered Species Act and Essential Fish Habitat consultations, among other things. Although the deadline for the information to be submitted was Feb. 7, IPOP didn’t submit it until later. “A response to the public notice comments, an ESA report, and a draft reclamation plan were submitted to the Corps on February 8 and 11,” Budnik wrote. “The Corps is currently reviewing the information for sufficiency.”
The Corps also received a Nationwide Permit application from IPOP in November to expand the existing surveying work. “Nationwide permits authorize various categories of specific activities that cause no more than minimal impacts,” explained Budnik. “The survey work is intended to support the larger mining operation. To date, limited surveying has been conducted in the Bonanza Channel in IPOP’s mining claims and we have authorized survey work to be completed in Bonanza Channel back in May 2020. The November request for expanded coring operations is still being processed.”
According to the new permit application that seeks to amend for the sixth time the original Individual Permit application, IPOP seeks to confine operations – which they still want to start in spring 2021 — to a smaller area near the proposed camp site. “The public and agency comments on the 2020 Narrative and Plan of Operations have raised questions about the effectiveness of the turbidity curtains, possible adverse effects on submerged aquatic vegetation and fish, and IPOP’s ability to reclaim the sites,” the amendment proposal reads. Instead, they propose to “refrain from extending any operations into the main Bonanza Channel, which has the highest density of SAV [submerged aquatic vegetation] and is presumptively associated with the most significant environmental values, and instead initially confine operations to the area in the vicinity of the camp site and lower end of the proposed access channel. The proposal, which we are calling the Bonanza Channel Case Study (BCCS) also adds some smaller equipment to assist in restoration of the shallower areas.”
According to the document, the Corps had suggested for IPOP to withdraw their application, IPOP disagrees and wants to integrate the new so-called case study in the existing permit application. Asked how the new amendment will influence the Corps’ process, Budnik said, “The new information modifying the original project description was determined to not be complete, and a request for information needed for a complete application was sent to the applicant on February 12. Once we have a complete application, a new Public Notice would be issued, seeking comments on the proposed modification to the original plan. The process is not starting over as we would include all comments received in response to the original Public Notice dated July 31, 2020, as well as all comments received on the forthcoming new Public Notice in our decision-making process regarding the overall project.”
IPOP is also seeking to amend a permit that allows them to do survey work that aims to determine if there is even enough gold present to warrant the proposed large scale mining project. They propose “a total of 502 core sample locations, including 267 new locations, with a 2.25-inch diameter and to a depth of 31 feet, to provide additional information about the material size fraction of the substrate and to provide information on the distribution and concentration of the mineral resource (gold) to support their Individual Permit application for dredge mining in Safety Sound/Bonanza Channel.”
Asked if the survey work flows into the Corps’ decision to approve or deny the mining permit, Budnik said that the survey work would provide valuable information necessary to develop measures for avoidance and minimization of impacts to Waters of the U.S. “This information may also support the purpose and need for the project,” he noted.
Finally, the IPOP document gives the Corps “the heads up” that they have been “exploring options for compensatory mitigation for disturbances associated with the proposed summer 2021 alternatives. They state that the state of Alaska “believes its ability to replace fish-blocking culverts in the Nome/Solomon area is limited by the availability of culvert material and has expressed a willingness to work with IPOP to permit IPOP to get credit for compensatory mitigation by supplying culvert,” the proposal reads. Also, the document says IPOP “understands that there are possible habitat improvements sought in the vicinity of Moonlight Springs.” It does not elaborate what Nome’s water source at the base of Anvil Mountain has to do with their gold mining proposal nearly 30 miles east of Nome.
The Solomon Native Corp., land owner of the surrounding area, stands in opposition of the proposed gold mining in a region cherished for its subsistence abundance.
“Solomon Native Corporation remains opposed to IPOP’s plans to conduct disastrous suction-dredge mining in an important ecological and subsistence use area,” said Elizabeth Johnson, President of Solomon Native Corp. “The latest permit amendment demonstrates IPOP’s total disregard for the level of careful study and consideration that a project of this magnitude requires. If IPOP cannot provide very basic information regarding the likely effects of this mining project, how can IPOP be trusted to be a responsible resource developer?”