IPOP won’t be mining this season
IPOP LLC, a mining hopeful, proposing to mine for gold in the Bonanza Channel, has submitted a plan of operations to regulatory agencies for approval before their exploration phase has concluded. The outfit’s dredge and connexes of material arrived in 2018 in Nome with no permits in hand and as of today, permits to go into full scale mining mode have yet to be issued and amended exploration permits are undergoing agency reviews.
Impatient with the Army Corps of Engineers, Ed Epstein, the mastermind behind IPOP, fired off a letter on April 24 saying that “IPOP has determined not to proceed with further core drilling this season and instead insists that the Corps expedite its individual permit application to commence full-scale operations of its ten-inch suction dredging system in the Bonanza Channel.”
The Corps issued an exploration permit on May 4 valid for five years that stipulates, among other things, that exploration activities are limited to icebound months from January 1 to May 31.
A consultancy firm, Yukuskokon Professional Services LLC, based in Wasilla, submitted on April 27 a fifth amendment to IPOP’s Alaska Placer Mining Application saying that IPOP applies for full scale placer mining operations and that it is a “shovel-ready project, ready to support the Governor’s COVID-19 Economic Stabilization Plan, and assist the struggling Nome-area and Alaska economies.” The letter further states “IPOP must be mining by June 1, 2020 in order to have a positive economic outcome. If not received by this date IPOP must wait until June 1, 2021.”
The IPOP-imposed deadline came and went and no permits have been issued.
The project is set in a fragile environment, which elevated the threshold of permitting from a general placer mining permit to a so-called individual permit requiring more stringent studies, data collections and tribal consultations. The project site is set in an estuary abundant with wildlife. Five endangered species are listed to frequent the area, it is considered essential fish habitat and the area is heavily used for subsistence purposes. Epstein in his letter to the Corps stated that the project would be ready to spend $500,000/month in operating costs in Nome, and that operations would be “no more than a temporary disturbance of sediments in the Bonanza Channel, which is not critical habitat to any listed species – indeed, listed species are almost never present,” he wrote. He further stated, in regards to the exploration permit, that IPOP is unwilling to spend upwards of $100,000 “to fly personnel to Alaska, fund them through a mandatory fourteen-day quarantine, hazard poor conditions arising from the extraordinary regulatory delays, ship thousands of pounds of samples and then pay for further analysis, all to confirm what IPOP LLC already knows –these claims contain economically-viable gold deposits.” The company conducted sediment sampling at 13 sites and submitted only one, hand-dug sediment sample for analysis. However, according to the assay document, “IPOP didn’t ask American Assay Laboratories to prepare detailed information concerning the precise portions of gold within the samples,” but concludes that it’s viable to mine there. The document also states that IPOP has delayed releasing detailed information from its exploration sampling “because the of desire [sic] to seek out additional potential claims without setting off a ‘gold rush’.”
Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Leslie Tose updated The Nome Nugget on the status of the application and said that the Corps is reviewing the 228-page Narrative and Plan of Operations. The Corps considered the narrative incomplete and requested more information.
IPOP’s deadline to supply the missing information is July 4.
Once the additional information is supplied, the Corps expects to go into a 30-day public notice phase, where the public is asked to submit meaningful comment. Tose explains that the Corps considers substantive comments that are well thought out, and name specifics about a topic or concern. “We need to know why, for example, a commenter may be concerned with the effects of the proposal on subsistence, because, as designed, the project would eliminate a habitat for a food source, during a particular season. Another example would be if a commenter had concerns about the effect on navigation from digging a channel, or effect on siltation, from use of a silt curtain,” Tose explained.
Substantive comments, she said, are important because they are forwarded by the Corps to the applicant for response. The applicant’s role is to rebut, defend, provide answers, and participate in finding solutions to any problems that come up. The applicant will be given a reasonable time, to respond to requests of the district engineer.
The Corps is responsible for reaching a decision on the merits of any application and must clearly inform the applicant that if he does not respond with the requested information or a justification why additional time is necessary, then his application will be considered withdrawn or a final decision will be made, Tose said.
Tose explained that at the end of the public notice period, there is no guarantee that a project would continue to move forward. If the applicant does not provide the additional information associated with substantive comments, there is a likelihood that the public notice would be withdrawn.
IPOP submitted a request to continue last year’s authorization to conduct small-scale test dredging this summer, proposing to collect environmental data, perform limited dredging activities to collect turbidity plume data and to demonstrate the use of a silt curtain to mitigate turbidity. According to Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Division of Water permitting manager Allan Nakanishi, the DEC is currently reviewing both the full scale mining and operations plan that IPOP submitted for the large dredge operation under an individual permit, as well as the general permit authorization to conduct the small-scale test dredging. He said that more environmental data is needed before an individual permit for the large dredge can be issued. Data from the short term test dredging –once permitted – would be used to inform the long term permit for the larger dredge that is proposed to be used in the actual mining operation. IPOP will need to obtain approvals from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dept. of Natural Resources and Dept. of Fish & Game, in addition to DEC’s approval, in order to perform the small-scale test dredging this summer.
IPOP staked 32 claims east and west of the Bonanza bridge and proposes to mine in the estuary near mile 28/29 of the Nome-Council road by deploying a cutterhead dredge on pontoons, cutting an access channel to the mining claims and mining in the summer months from June to November. The workers, about 20 and up to 40 during start up operations, would stay at a one-acre generator-powered man camp north of the Nome-Council Highway. During the winter they propose to continue delineation and core drilling activities.
In regards to socio-economics, IPOP’s narrative falsely states that Nome, as of March 2019, has a population of 9,869 people. According to latest figures, Nome’s population is 3,813. The narrative continues that “There are three major industries currently serving Nome, Alaska: Mining, commercial fishing and tourism.” This is not reflective of economic realities in Nome since the biggest employer in the region is not the mining industry, fishing or tourism, but Norton Sound Health Corporation and other governmental or tribal organizations. The narrative goes on to explain that mining “has the most impact on the Nome economy” and that “although gold continues to be mined today, the shut-down of the Rock Creek Mine and other local smaller-scale operations have reduced the demand for transportation, housing, goods and services.” There is no evidence that demand for housing, goods or services has diminished.
As a result, the narrative concludes, Nome and the surrounding communities have been hit hard economically and IPOP will significantly boost Nome’s economy, a similar claim made by NovaGold when pushing for the defunct Rock Creek mine.
The narrative states that IPOP’s annual payroll and services during operations would be in excess of $3 million per year. “Given the incredible resource-rich value of the Bonanza Channel sands coupled with the immense volume of potential ore in the general project area, the BCPP [Bonanza Channel Placer Project] is expected to provide at minimum 10 years of positive socio-economic benefits to the city of Nome and the surrounding communities,” the narrative says.
In regards to subsistence, the narrative devotes one sentence to the matter: “There are reports that the project area is used by members of the Nome Community for subsistence fishing, egg gathering, berry picking and migratory waterfowl hunting.”
The narrative makes the argument that the cutterhead dredge has a less than 80 decibels noise level and that it would not disturb wildlife. It states that the operational footprint of 15 acres at a time is “small” and that “mining and subsistence can coexist in the Bonanza Channel.” No chemicals would be used, no wastewater would be created and “the plan is to mine with concurrent reclamation, re-establishing the estuary as close to the original pre-mining extent and depth as possible, with the exception of the access channel through the center of the mining channel what will be left at 10 ft. BMHW to provide ecological enhancement to the waterway.”
The Nome Nugget has reached out to IPOP for comment and to answer specific questions, but through their consultant Bill Burnett, with Yukukoskon Professional Services, denied an interview, saying “No comment at this time.”