A small boat rests on Sept. 30, 2020, at the shore of Safety Sound, a sheltered area located east of Nome. A Nevada-based company was seeking federal permission to conduct a major gold-dredging operation in the sound, an imporant site for fish, migratory birds and seal, as well as for subsistence food gathering. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied the permit sought by the company, IPOP LLC. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has rejected an application from a Nevada-based company that was seeking to operate a controversial mining project near Nome.
The Corps said on Friday it denied IPOP LLC’s application for a wetlands-fill permit for a gold-dredging operation that would have affected about 195 acres at Safety Sound and Bonanza Channel, an important subsistence harvesting area about 30 miles east of Nome.
“Today’s action is reflective of an exhaustive permit review process,” Col. Damon Delarosa, commander of the Alaska District, said in a statement released on Friday. “On top of extensive consultations with our sister agencies and tribal partners as well as collecting the public’s input, the applicant failed to adequately show that their proposal is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.”
Denial of such permit applications is rare, the Corps said in its statement. Nationally, less than 1% of applications for Corps permits are denied, the statement said. Rejected applicants usually fail to change their proposed activities, the statement said.
The IPOP project was originally pitched as a setting for a reality TV show. A California company called Rivers of Gold in 2017 sought investors for a project it said could generate $25 million in revenues, according to a 2017 report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ed Epstein, general partner and operator of Rivers of Gold, described the project in a 2017 video as a multifaceted moneymaker.
Nome is the setting for a long-running Discovery Channel reality TV show called Bering Sea Gold, which follows the exploits of offshore miners who dredge from boats in Norton Sound.
The IPOP project was widely opposed in the region. Among the opponents was Kawerak Inc., a nonprofit Native organization; the Bering Straits Native Corp., the Nome-based regional Native corporation; and the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., a non-profit fishery organization that represents 15 Bering Strait-area communities.
In comments submitted last year, Kawerak called the proposed development area an “extremely sensitive and pristine ecosystem which, once altered, may never return to its natural state.”
The area, with waters that are sheltered from the rougher seas of Norton Sound, is a haven for migratory birds, seals and other animals, and also critically important to people who gather wild foods, Kawerak said in its 2021 comments.
“The entire Bonanza area is a subsistence use area throughout the year. People from Nome use this area year-round to gather eggs, hunt birds, fish for all species throughout the year, hunt for seals, and also for moose and bear hunting in the spring and fall as well as for berry picking and gathering greens in the summer,” Kawerak said in the comments.
The IPOP project did receive a state permit in 2019 allowing the company to conduct some exploratory dredging in the area.
IPOP officials did not respond to an email inquiry on Monday about the Corps’ permit denial, and a spokesperson at the Juneau law firm that is listed as IPOP’s registered agent declined to comment.
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