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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Grants Permit for Dredging Operation Despite Local Opposition

The Solomon River area along the Nome-Council Highway. Maddie Winchester photo.
The Solomon River area along the Nome-Council Highway. Maddie Winchester photo.

March 20, 2024

Ben Townsend, News Director

Following years of applications, reapplications, and public dissent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division has offered a permit to IPOP, LLC, allowing the company to dredge and dispose of material in waters 25 miles to the east of Nome. This decision overturns a previous permit denial issued by the Alaska District in September 2022. The permit can be traced back to an application first filed in May 2018 that has been embroiled in controversy, drawing criticism from residents and organizations including the Northern Norton Sound Fish & Game Advisory Committee and Kawerak, Inc. 

Following the construction of a camp and staging area, the gold mining operation would dredge and dispose of millions of cubic yards in material over the course of several years. The revised permit is expected to impact more than 150 acres of wetlands, aquatic vegetation, and wildlife within the Bonanza Channel estuary.

The proposed mining site is located near the Bonanza Channel estuary.

Kawerak, Inc., a regional tribal consortium based in Nome, opposed IPOP’s application in a 2021 letter stating that the area is near approximately 10 native allotments and over 100 campsites. These campsites are used by both native and non-native residents for subsistence activities including egg gathering, hunting, fishing, and berry picking. 

Shedding light on the possible environmental impacts of additional mining operations, Kawerak added in their letter that, “It has been reported for years by local subsistence users how migratory birds of all kinds do not frequent the area at all or not as often as they used to. This is due to all the increased offshore mining activity that is taking place in front of Nome.”

IPOP’s revised plan, deemed the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA), reduces the area impacted by the dredging operation by approximately 33 acres compared to their previous proposal. The permit includes a special condition requiring IPOP to monitor environmental resources throughout the project as well as for two years post-completion. Requirements to ensure rapid regrowth of aquatic vegetation are also included in the revised permit.

Brig. Gen. Kirk Gibbs, Division Engineer from the US Army Corps of Engineers stated, “The Corps is committed to protecting the Nation’s aquatic resources while allowing reasonable development.” He added that while the estuary would likely recover from most impacts, monitoring and mitigation measures are necessary to safeguard fish, wildlife, and water quality and ensure estuary recovery.

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