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‘There Is No Project’: Missing Paperwork Puts IPOP Mine Proposal in Limbo

Solomon River, Nome
The Solomon River area along the Nome-Council Highway. Photo: Maddie Winchester, KNOM.

IPOP LLC, a division of the California-based company Rivers of Gold, is looking to dredge in Safety Sound and Bonanza Channel.

Before it can do any mining work, the company is required to have permits from several governmental agencies: the US Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Natural Resources, and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. According to these entities, IPOP is not much closer to getting the “ok” to commence dredging than it was nearly a year ago.

KNOM’s Katie Kazmierski reports:

In order to start the sort of large-scale dredging the company has proposed, IPOP would need to obtain what’s called an Individual Permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

According to Leslie Tose, Project Manager at the Corps, the application process is thorough. It requires every mining operation to submit information on: an overall project area, alternative project locations, project plans, and an explanation on how it would minimize environmental impact. It also requires a detailed project purpose and need.

“This project is kind of unusual because the applicant has mentioned a variety of project purposes aside from gold mining… they’ve also talked about a reality TV show, merchandising, manufacturing gold bars… all of those things would need to be taken into account to talk about a project purpose and need.”

Tose says the Corps of Engineers needs all of this information so the public has enough to comment on if and when the application moves into the public comment period. According to Tose, the application IPOP submitted was missing more than just a few required materials:

“Actually all of those things. They did not have project plans, they did not show specifically where they were going to mine, they did not address their project purpose and need… they did not include alternative locations that they would consider, they did not complete their background environmental data.”

The Corps closed the application due to insufficient information. Tose says at this point IPOP will have to start their entire individual permit application over if they wish to dredge for gold in the region. She wanted to make one thing very clear:

“Until we get an application, there is no project.”

Nick Dallman, a Placer Mine Coordinator at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, echoes that IPOP has not submitted necessary documents to the DEC, either. He says the Department sent IPOP a letter back in June 2018 explaining that, in order to proceed, they’ll need to apply for an individual Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, or APDES.

“We haven’t gotten that application yet.”

The proposed mining operation applied for a separate permit for a smaller 6-inch test dredge back in August 2018, an authorization that was given on April 1 of this year. Dallman says IPOP plans to use it for a short-term study to evaluate the water quality in the area.

For this project, Charlene Bringhurst, Natural Resource Specialist at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), says the DNR also needed to issue what’s called a Miscellaneous Land Use Permit, which the agency granted on April 2.

Information from the study will be used for IPOP’s Individual Permit application with the Army Corps of Engineers.

IPOP missed their opportunity to conduct the study this spring, and the DEC stipulates that they cannot perform the research from June 15 to September 15 this year, as recommended by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

This closure period is “intended to protect multiple species of salmon that migrate through and potentially spawn in Bonanza Channel during the June-September time period.” That means IPOP has a small window of opportunity, 14 days in mid-September, to operate their test dredge.

But again, the bigger application IPOP must submit to the DEC, the APDES, has still not been submitted. Dallman says that means there is still a pretty lengthy process ahead before any permits are issued.

“Once we get an application for the Individual Permit, it’s at minimum, best case scenario, probably a 6-month process to even seeing a permit issued. And during that there’s a public comment period, an appeal period… it’s definitely not something we’d see happening this summer.”

Both representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and DEC noted that their communication with IPOP has been spotty. KNOM sent multiple requests for comment to an IPOP representative that were not answered.

Audra Brase, Regional Supervisor at ADF&G, Division of Habitat, says that IPOP was granted a Fish Habitat permit for exploration back in August 2018, and two extensions in November 2018 and early this June. Both have now expired.

Brase noted the company is not authorized for a full-scale operation, and a larger Fish Habitat Permit will “definitely” be required if IPOP wishes to continue with the project.

No permits will be issued to the proposed Rivers of Gold project, from any governmental agency, without a public comment period. IPOP will have to follow through with the application process before anything beyond test dredging can happen in the area around the Bonanza Channel.

Image at top: The Solomon River area along the Nome-Council Highway, close to where IPOP proposes to dredge for gold. Photo: Maddie Winchester, KNOM file.

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