Alaska in Brief

Corps denies permit for company seeking to dredge for gold in sensitive area near Nome

By: - September 13, 2022 5:00 am
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, seals and 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)

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.

A skiff rests on the grassy tundra at Safety Sound on Sept. 30, 2020, with several cabins in the background. Safety Sound is an important site for fish, migratory birds, seal and other animals, and it is a key subsistence food-gathering area for residents of Nome and outlying communities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied a permit sought by a Nevada-based companie that planned to conduct a large gold-dredging operation in Safety Sound. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
A skiff rests on the grassy tundra at Safety Sound on Sept. 30, 2020, with several cabins in the background. Safety Sound is an important site for fish, migratory birds, seal and other animals, and it is a key subsistence food-gathering area for residents of Nome and outlying communities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied a permit sought by a Nevada-based companie that planned to conduct a large gold-dredging operation in Safety Sound. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

“We now have 540 acres of mining claims in virgin inland waters to fully exploit for the partnership, in addition to making a television show and creating our own gold luxury brand,” he said in the video. He also pledged to start mining in June of 2018 and said the company’s dredge would be able to process enough material to fill the Rose Bowl “to the top row” within 120 days – which he compared to what he characterized as small-scale operators who are featured on other reality TV shows.

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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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns -- subjects with a lot of overlap. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.

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