Alaska Gold Co. - Community Conscious! Nova Gold - Cyanidization!
Nome Nugget – www.nomenugget.net
Gold miners love to see color in their pans, and gold mining companies have always been seeking Nome's mother lode. The old Alaska Gold Company was generally a good corporate member of the Nome Community. What has changed? The pressure is on. Nova Gold, a Canadian –owned company, is anxious to have all the permitting agencies give them the checkered flag. They apparently mailed out form letters for businesses to express their favor to permitting agencies.
They canceled their account with Nome's largest privately owned business because its owner expressed his concern about the Rock Creek mine at a public meeting. They put barriers on public roads (Osborn) to bar passage for Nomeites. They plan to haul heavy-duty rock trucks over state and city roads to raise a lot of dust and rescue us from our depressed condition. They cast themselves as Nome's economic salvation with four to five years of jobs… crushing rocks, maybe driving some trucks and spraying some cyanide.
Nomeites remember the promises of WestGold and its offshore dredge BIMA. They pulled anchor, and the BIMA is now part of a loading dock at a Ketchikan fish cannery. We look at the old dredges #5 and #6 and the thaw field pipes and abandoned camp buildings. We look at the under-bonded arrogance of some large mining operations in Alaska and the fuel spills at Moonlight Springs watershed. How did we get to the point that we really believe that heap leaching with cyanide is a desirable mining practice?
Other states have outlawed the practice. What are Nome's emergency plans in the event of a cyanide spill either along the road or in the Snake River? How much bonding insurance will we require NovaGold to carry to clean up spills…especially problems that occur long after they have packed up and gone home. The $4 million they claim to have is not even a drop in the bucket against probable costs. They aren't inside our city limits, so maybe we can't require them to listen to us. Who will be monitoring the tailings ponds to make sure chemical contaminants don't escape? What kind of engineering guarantee do we have that the plastic liners won't crack or leak?
How anxious are we to sell our souls for ounces of cyanide heap-leached gold? Cyanide tailings don't just go away in a few years. They stick around for generations. NovaGold seems to be revealing its true colors. NovaGold needs to reconsider its gold extraction process. Nome is a gold mining town, but we are not a third world nation. We do have access to the Internet and we can find information about cyanidization. We don't swallow the "trust us, cyanidization is safe" concept. We need ironclad guarantees and perpetual watchdogs. We have some serious concerns and need some answers. — N.L.M.—
Because of medical and family issues, I've been out of Nome for most of the past two months, so I have missed, I guess, most of the early discussions and meetings about the new mines.
I've tried to catch up by reading the paper and, on Thursday I attended the meeting of the Hazard Mitigation and Planning Committee at the fire hall. I was there to learn. The foresight shown by the Committee was and is impressive, especially regarding flood dangers.
Upon reading the Committee's materials and reflecting on them, I do have some questions, which I was going to address at the Common Council meeting Monday night. Because that meeting was canceled, I'll pose them in this letter.
1. Has the City or the Committee requested an Environmental Impact Study from the Corps of Engineers or required NovaGold to get one on the over 400 acres of wetlands that will be impacted by these operations? I understand that an application has been made to lower the water quality standard from drinking water quality in Lindblom and Rock creeks. What does that mean? Lowering standards never sounds like a good thing to me, whether it be in school performance, eligibility to serve in the armed forces, or in water quality.
I wish the City had done an EIS before it allowed the wetlands between Sixth Avenue and the Bypass Road to be filled in. Ever since it was, a lot of that trapped water has traveled to the backyards, homes and streets south of the area. Our house, for instance, now has ever-present water under it from breakup till deep freeze. Good thing we're on pilings! But getting under there is awful for plumbers. Our neighbor has had to continually fill sinkholes in his yard because of the underground runoff. There are another couple of sinkholes in (not on) I St. between 5th and 6th Avenues.
Wetlands are sensitive areas! We should be very respectful of them and at least try to mitigate our impact on them.
2. The Hazard Mitigation Committee had several areas of seismic concern listed as projects for testing. Has the City required NovaGold to conduct seismic tests in the mine areas? Even if those mines are in stable areas now, how stable will they be during and after continuous blasting?
Granted, the mines are not within city limits. However, the consequences of those preliminary mine operations have already had and will continue to have effects on our lives long after the five-year life of the mines. How do years of mineral extraction balance out positively for we who plan to live here for the rest of our lives?
Re the "lake" that will be created to smother with water weight the depleted extraction paste. What steps are being taken to ensure the seismic safety of its bottom?
I don't want to contemplate the effect of a leak into the valley and its river, let alone think of the teens who might think it a terrific adventure to drive out there for a summer moonlight swim. Nor am I comfortable with the fact (source: Army Corps of Engineers) that the "lake" is designed to overflow in roughly two years. Yikes! Overflow to where? Into the river, the ground water, the remaining wetlands?
3. How many acres and to what depth in the permafrost will the mines intrude in the large extraction pits? We all know that once permafrost is exposed to sunlight, it turns to jello. That melting jello spreads and spreads. Global warming is slower than this effect, it seems to me.
4. What really are the benefits to Nome while the mines are operating? We will collect no taxes, we will be subject to enormous amounts of increased dust pollution and road hazzards, we'll be left with a huge polluted "lake." Our wetlands will be gone or compromised, our rivers in the area will no longer contain "drinkable" standard water (and do we really want to eat fish from those waters?) I don't!
So, who's going to benefit? The bars! Young people whooping it up and spending money in the bars. Perhaps those businesses who sell tourist items — also incidental. I don't know but would like to know…will this increased activity require additional and constant efforts by the Nome Safety Patrol?
5. How many of those 135 jobs will be filled from Nome?
6. And most important to me is that when a question was posed at the Hazards Mitigation, etc. meeting on Thursday, WHY was it answered with something like, "We'll deal with planning for that when all the permits are issued!" AFTER?????? After is too late! The questions/concerns should be addressed (should have been addressed) long before this! And certainly before the permits from various state and federal agencies are issued.
7. What is the national and international reputation of NovaGold regarding environmental, reclamation, and cleanup issues? We, us citizens, have a right to know.
8. What effects will the aftermath of the mines have on Moonlight Springs, the sole source of our drinking water?
9. If NovaGold is indeed a good corporate citizen, why didn't it go ahead and request an Environmental Impact Study when it was contemplating, years ago, these huge mines?
I'm not against mining; after all, Nome was built on mining – but not this kind of HUGE open pit mining. I'm not against Nova Gold; they have been very supportive of many community non-profit efforts, including my own.
I just believe this whole process or lack of it is now racing toward us like a huge avalanche, and our elected decision-makers are watching and muttering, "Whoops! Didn't think of that!" Or now that people are paying attention, will they say, "Hey, wait a minute! We need some answers!"
It's also interesting that the public comment process began and ended while so many people were at camp. Surely, our city officials would have warned the state and federal agencies about that!
Jana Varrati, Nome
Nome Nugget - July 20th edition
Scientists Comment On Rock Creek Mine Project
By Diana Haecker
Two scientists with the Center for Science in Public Participation issued comments on permit applications by the Alaska Gold Company currently under state and federal scrutiny, expressing concerns dealing with acid mining drainage and cyanide in connection with the proposed Rock Creek mine and mill project.
Dr. Glenn Miller, CSPP chemist, said in his comment, "As I review the plan, the greatest risks are from acid generation and the subsequent release of contaminated water; non-acidic (but still contaminated) water draining from the site; pit lake water quality; nitrate from residual cyanide and cyanide complexes; reclamation and other closure issues and mercury release."
Miller suggests an underground mine at the site, rather than an open pit, due to contamination issues. "As presently proposed, it is likely that environmental problems will be created which will threaten water quality around the mine for a very long time," Miller concludes.
According to Alaska Gold Company planning documents, the open pit at Rock Creek will measure 3,445 feet in a north-south direction and 1,312 feet in an east-west direction. The pit at Big Hurrah is slated to be 1,640 feet long by 820 feet wide. The pit will partially be back-filled at closure with 1,305,000 cubic yards of "potentially acid generating development rock," according to the planning documents.
Miller explained that acid mine drainage is created when sulfide-containing rock (primarily pyrite) is brought to the surface and exposed to oxygen and water.
"Acid mine drainage from hard rock mines is often considered the most serious water quality problem in the mountainous areas of the western United States, since once it begins, it is very difficult to halt acid production. Release of acid can continue for decades and centuries," Miller commented.
Miller also pointed to AGC's request to downgrade the current stream classification of Rock Creek and Lindblom Creek from drinking water quality to lower grade water.
"It appears that this is a de facto admission that water quality will be degraded," wrote Miller.
Planning documents say that water outflows from the development rock dumps on site will be routed to either Rock Creek or Lindblom Creek.
Geophysicist David Chambers, Ph.D. said, in an interview with The Nome Nugget, that his greatest concern with the proposed Rock Creek project applications are that significant information is lacking on the design and the function of the cyanide destruct system and the water treatment system, as well as the potential for acid rock drainage.
"The conclusion that acid rock drainage will not be a problem at the sites is an oversimplification related to the conclusion that the waste dump material is overall non-acid-generating," Chambers commented.
Chambers also said that monitoring plans should include the testing for cyanide levels in the recycle water pond which, he maintains, contains cyanide.
Cyanide leach mining uses a cyanide solution to extract minute amounts of gold diffused in large amounts of ore. The cyanide forms a water-soluble compound with gold from which the gold then is recovered.
Cyanide refers to various compounds that contain CN - one single atom of carbon and one single atom of nitrogen.
Chambers, a Montana-based scientist, found a lack of discussion of how the company plans to destroy free cyanide to control the level of the toxin in the tailings. Free cyanide is the cyanide ion and hydrogen cyanide, both highly toxic to humans and aquatic life. Depending on the pH level of water it is released in, it forms hydrogen cyanide. At a pH below 7.0 — acidic water — all dissolved cyanide transformed to hydrogen cyanide, which forms a gas released into the air. The gas is used in execution chambers.
The Center for Science in Public Participation is a non-profit organization providing objective research, education and technical advice to various organizations, regulatory agencies, businesses and tribes on natural resource issues, especially those related to mining.
In 1998 Montana voters banned the use of cyanide in mining in the state.
At press time, the permitting agencies had not yet released a response to the comments received for the first permits under scrutiny by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (Waste management permit); Army Corps of Engineers (Section 404 Clean Water Act); and Alaska Department of Natural Resources (draft reclamation plan, six temporary water use permits and one fish habitat permit). The public comment period for the ACOE section 404 permit dealing with the filling and disturbance of wetlands was extended until July 20.
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