Donlin Gold, one of the largest known, undeveloped gold deposits in the world, required a complex long-term permitting process to secure more than 100 local, state and federal government permits to develop the mine site.
Michael Baker’s team of environmental scientists, biologists and engineers faced Alaska’s unforgiving weather, wildlife and wetlands to map and study upwards of 100,000 acres for gold mining company Donlin Gold, LLC to more accurately delineate wetlands from uplands in preparation for environmental impact permitting.
Donlin Gold, LLC hired Michael Baker to re-analyze the 100,000-acre study area after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) changed its manual requirements related to classifying wetlands. The original wetland analysis identified 9,000 acres of wetlands that would impact the mine, transportation corridor, and a 315-mile pipeline to bring natural gas to the mine site to power the processing mill. As a result, the gold mining company would have been required, as part of the USACE permitting process, to devise costly restoration solutions to mitigate wetland losses; purchase wetland mitigation bank credits from other companies or pay “in-lieu fee credits” to compensate for the wetland losses tied to the 9,000 acres.
Our team flew into remote locations via a small helicopter, working with USACE to approve new mapping protocols using existing aerial maps, LiDAR, GPS and a boots-on-the-ground delineation study. The team completed gap analyses to determine ground targets and then completely remapped 100,000 acres for Donlin Gold.
The result: The more accurate mapping reduced the actual wetlands impact by more than 4,000 acres. Now, the client, with defined wetland boundaries, can further adjust access roads, material sites, pipe storage yards, etc., within the pipeline corridor. The mine footprint also has been reviewed to adjust access roads and facilities that now have further flexibility to move around the mapped wetlands.
The reduction in wetland delineation will allow Donlin Gold to reduce its wetland impacts and therefore its compensatory mitigation costs. Once up and running, Donlin Gold expects to remove an overall average of 1.3 million ounces of gold annually from the open-pit mine over more than 27 years and employ more than 1,400.
“We are continuing to help with the permitting process, which is expected to take several years, as well as infrastructure efforts, including refinement of the route of the buried 14-inch pipeline, which will carry natural gas across the wilderness to the remote site to power the processing mill.”
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