Approximately 1,000 individuals across Western Alaska and the state are opposed to IPOP LLC’s potential gold mining project in the Bonanza Channel, Safety Sound area.

During a virtual town hall meeting on Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers heard comments from several individuals about why they took issue with IPOP’s application.

Virtual-Town-Hall-on-IPOP-Bonanza-Channel-Safety-Sound-U.S.-Army-Corps-of-Engineers

Ellen Lyons, a project manager for the Corps, says all comments they received will be reviewed, but only ones with substance will be taken into account.

“We look at every comment and determine if it is substantive, that means does it have something to do with our permitting process and is it specifically related to the proposal? If it’s substantive, we’re going to forward it to the applicant. They have an opportunity to provide a response to that comment. We then take all of that information and factor it into our decision-making process.”

– Ellen Lyons

That being said, Nome resident Chandre Szafran believes the comments she has collected from 1,000 people in Alaska, should all be substantive; and in total, Szafran mentioned she had compiled roughly 2,000 comments from people all over Alaska and the Lower 48.

“If these 1,000 people, who are local and regional residents [within Alaska], have authorized us to make comments on their behalf, that is substantive and detailed about the use of the area; that seems like it should have some pretty good weight to it, in terms of representing the public on this issue.”

– Chandre Szafran

Szafran has her own family connection to gold mining. Her grandfather owned and operated a mining company near Council from 1958 to 1984. She had that in mind as Szafran shared that she is against the specific mining project proposed by IPOP.

“The Bonanza Channel, Safety Sound lagoon system, and surrounding areas are just too important to local communities to allow the IPOP mining operation to move forward. Part of what we’ll send on behalf of those 1,000 people that I mentioned earlier, is that the area is widely used for food security, which the Army Corps has expressed is really important to them in their regulatory processes.”

– Chandre Szafran

There are also non-food related concerns that some cultural activities will be disrupted if IPOP’s dredging operation is allowed to mine in the Bonanza Channel area. Szafran highlighted the importance of these types of comments as well, and emphasized the need for the Corps to take them into consideration related to their regulatory processes.

Szafran was not the only one who voiced her opposition to the controversial gold mining project. Nome residents Charlie Lean, Carol Gales, and Roy Ashenfelter all provided comments or asked questions of the Corps Monday night.

Ashenfelter pointed out that despite the numerous comments that have been submitted to IPOP through the Corps’ process, or through previous meetings and consultation with local and regional tribes, there has not been any communication from the gold company.

“When you look at their [IPOP’s] reviews and their responses, there is no response to the information that we provided, including to the Corps. We had meetings with the Corps too, to explain our subsistence uses.”

– Roy Ashenfelter

The primary applicant for IPOP’s proposed project, Beau Epstein has not responded to KNOM’s multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The public comment period officially began for this application on July 31st and was open for 30 days. According to Tiffany Kwakwa, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps granted, “the original public notice extension [of two weeks] to allow our partner agencies additional time to review new information provided by the applicant in late August. The second extension [through September 30th] was to allow additional time for the receipt of comments from remote areas. The intent of the public meeting was to open an additional means for the public to provide us with their comments and concerns prior to the close of the comment period.”

Now that the public comment period on the application is closed, project manager Kwakwa says the Corps will begin reviewing all of the submitted comments. Once that is complete, alternatives will be discussed, consultation will take place with tribes and the applicant, then finally the U.S. Army Corps will make their final decision on this gold mining project.

Image at top: A sunny day at Safety Sound, roughly 25 miles outside of Nome where IPOP LLC has proposed to set up its gold mining project. Photo from KNOM file (2015).

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