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Pogo gold mine owner seeks waste-discharge permit renewal

The Pogo gold mine is located about 38 miles northeast of Delta Junction. It's been operating since 2006.
KUAC file photo
The Pogo gold mine is located about 38 miles northeast of Delta Junction. It's been operating since 2006.

Northern Star Resources asks DEC to renew permit allowing discharge of mine waste into Goodpaster River

The company that owns the Pogo gold mine north of Delta Junction is seeking to renew a state permit that allows it to discharge processed waste into a nearby river.

Northern Star Resources has appliedto the state Department of Environmental Conservation to renew a five-year waste-discharge permit for the Pogo mine. The Australia-based company discharges treated waste from its underground mine, man camps and other facilities into the Goodpaster River.

DEC engineer Tim Pilon says that wastewater is discharged into the river through two outlets called outfalls.

“Outfall 1 discharges treated mine-drainage water,” he said, “and Outfall 2 discharges treated domestic wastewater.”

According to DEC, the waste coming out of Outfall 2 includes sewage and gray water. Waste discharged by Outfall 1 includes antimony, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury and zinc.

“Those are the defined minerals that are available and show up in water,” he said. “So, those are the ones that you’ve got to keep your eye on.”

Pilon says Northern Star must monitor treated mine waste for those minerals, and he says they have not exceeded government thresholds. He says the company no longer monitors for cyanide in the wastewater, because the toxic chemical hasn’t been present in wastewater in recent years.

“Cyanide has been monitored in the past, and it has not shown up,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

But it has shown up elsewhere around the mine -- like two accidental releases in 2015 and 2016 of a cyanide-containing substance called paste that’s used to fill mine shafts. The DEC website doesn’t say that Northern Star was sanctioned for those releases. But the company paid a $600,000 federal fine earlier this year for improper handling of other hazardous wastes.

“That was kind of an arcane distinction that was made in that whole issue,” he said.

Pilon says that fine was levied for violation of a different federal law -- the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The permit that Northern Star wants to renew is one required by the federal Clean Water Act. The EPA first issued the permit in 2004 to one of the partners that developed the mine, Vancouver-based Teck Cominco. But DEC’s been issuing them since then. And Pilon says there’s been little or no concern expressed over that renewal in recent years.

“This permit’s been rolled-over so many times. And, initially, there were lots of public meetings and things like that. But on the renewals, there’s been little or no interest.”

No public meetings are scheduled for this year’s wastewater-discharge permit. But DEC says anyone interested in the agency holding one can request for that before Sept. 9th. That’s also the deadline for submitting public comments on the permit renewal. Members of the public may submit their comments onlineor by mailing them to:
Tim Pilon
610 University Ave.
Fairbanks, AK 99709

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.