The mining companies running the Donlin Creek exploration project say their studies show potential for making billions, and they announced on Tuesday that they plan to apply soon for the environmental and construction permits they'll need to build an open-pit mine.
The companies -- NovaGold Resources, a small mining company, and Barrick Gold Corp., one of the world's largest producers, both based in Canada -- are gunning to build Donlin because of its massive storehouse of gold. Building Donlin also would deliver the long-held dream of some corporate Yup'ik Native leaders to create a large industry in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, where the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation and typically is the highest in Alaska.
City leaders in the region's biggest population hub, Bethel, are still waiting for more information about the project before making up their minds about it, said Dan Leinberger, the vice mayor. Residents don't want spills in the Kuskokwim River or erosion from mine-related barge traffic that could interfere with salmon habitat, he said. Risks include the companies' plans to use cyanide in the gold extraction process and the likely presence of acid-generating rock and trace amounts of mercury in the ore.
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