Bethel Voices Positions, Questions, Concerns On Donlin Draft EIS

by Anna Rose MacArthur on February 2, 2016

Keith Gordon, USACE Project Manager for the Donlin Creek mine draft EIS, opening the Bethel public meeting. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Keith Gordon, USACE Project Manager for the Donlin Creek mine draft EIS, opening the Bethel public meeting. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Around 100 people gathered in the Bethel Cultural Center Monday night to listen and testify on the Donlin Creek mine draft environmental impact statement, or EIS. The gathering stretched over four hours as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers introduced the document, the Bureau of Land Management held a public hearing on how the project could affect subsistence, and dozens of community members voiced their positions, questions, and concerns.

Most attendees who spoke opposed the project.

“I’ve lived on this river my entire live. I’ve depended on the land and resources for food. And I feel that this whole mine jeopardizes and threatens all of that,” Gloria Simeon said.

Gloria Simeon testifying at the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin Creek mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Gloria Simeon testifying at the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Grant Fairbanks said he has always stood against the project.

“I’m concerned about the bonding aspects of mitigation and post-closure. I don’t think that Donlin is going to put up enough money to take care of any problems down the road,” he said.

As Fairbanks read from his many pages of testimony, several people walked up and laid a yellow card on the table next to him, transferring their allotted three speaking minutes to him.

Some commenters, like Chuck Herman, presented specific questions.

“I’m concerned about issues of hazard response. With the state pulling out their DEC person from Bethel, who’s going to check on spills? Is the city expected to take care of it if there is a barge spill?”

Grant Fairbanks testifying at the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin Creek mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Grant Fairbanks testifying at the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Few voices spoke in support of the proposed mine, but those who did, like John Wallace, cited possible economic benefits. Wallace said the project could give the region an economic engine that could drive people to lead healthier lives.

“I think you get a lot of self-value from earning your own money and spending your own money, and that’s my main thing,” Wallace said.

John Hoffman, who serves on the Calista Board of Directors, also voiced support. Calista Regional Corporation owns the ore reserves of the proposed mine. Most commenters opposing the project referenced subsistence concerns, but Hoffman, an elder, said subsistence practices and resources are so changed from when he was younger that the possibility for jobs and financial improvement ranks as a greater regional gain.

“This is only way that I believe our younger generation, that have been left out for so long from getting involved in the economy, to get to have and handle money and learn how to use it, lend it, and borrow it. That’s what they’ve been denied,” he said.

June McAtee, vice president of Land and Shareholder Services at Calista, said the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act mandates the regional corporation to develop its lands to benefit shareholders, and she encouraged the Army Corps to permit the proposed mine.

June McAtee testifying at the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin Creek mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

June McAtee testifying at the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

“We see this project as an integral part of self-determination as a rural people. We intend to be active and involved participants in the development of our own land and the resources of Donlin Creek,” McAtee said, citing possible economic benefits from local jobs, wages, tax revenue, and energy infrastructure.

Most people at the meeting, like Henry Hunter, were there just to listen and learn.

“There’s just too many if’s, and I want to make sure I understand what those if’s are,” Hunter said.

Whether commenters supported the mine or not, one thing most people agreed on, and a request echoed throughout the testimonies was asking the Army Corps for more time to review the draft EIS. The document stretches more than 5,000 pages across dense technical jargon; it stands over a foot high in hardcopy; and the public comment period lasts five months.

John Active translating into Yup'ik the Bethel public comment meeting for the proposed Donlin Creek mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

John Active translating into Yup’ik the Bethel public comment meeting on the proposed Donlin mine draft EIS. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

“And that’s to read, review, research, analyze and compile a formal, thoughtful opinion and response in formal writing. It’s very unattainable. It’s unrealistic, and I think a year at minimum is more appropriate, especially when something like this will affect us for decades to come,” said Nikki Hoffman.

Hoffman serves on City Council but was at the gathering representing herself. At the last council meeting, Hoffman proposed drafting a resolution asking the Army Corps to extend the public comment period six months.

The Corps is hosting a similar meeting Tuesday in Akiak and Wednesday in Nunapitchuk. More meetings will follow in other Kuskokwim communities. To submit comments online visit www.donlingoldeis.com.

Public Meeting Schedule on Donlin Gold Draft EIS

Akiak
Feburary 2, 2016
Community Center
2:00 pm

Nunapitchuk
February 3, 2016
Community Building
1:00 pm

Quinhagak
February 16, 2016
Bingo Hall
1:00 pm

Kipnuk
February 17, 2016
Tribal Council Office
1:30 pm

McGrath
Feburary 26, 2016
McGrath Native Village Council Office
3:00 pm

St. Mary’s
March 1, 2016
City Hall
6:00 pm

Emmonak
March 2, 2016
City Complex
6:00 pm

Toksook Bay
March 15, 2016
Multipurpose Room
1:00 pm

Hooper Bay
March 16, 2016
Tribal Council Office
1:00 pm

Tyonek
March 25, 2016
Native Village Office
1:00 pm

Holy Cross
March 30, 2016
Community Hall
6:00 pm

Lower Kalskag
March 31, 2016
Community Hall
1:00 pm

 

 

 

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