AGC settles with EPA over water violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week said that Alaska Gold Company has paid a $177,500 penalty for alleged Clean Water Act violations at the Rock Creek mine. The EPA alleges that the AGC violated permit requirements for controlling storm water pollution during construction activities between May 2009 and September 2011.
The EPA said in a press release that AGC has taken corrective actions to comply by submitting and implementing an upgraded Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and reclaiming a portion of the area disturbed during construction.
“Polluted runoff can damage important habitat and harm Alaska’s natural resources,” said Jeff Ken Knight, manager of EPA’s Clean Water Act Compliance Unit in Seattle. “Companies need to plan for and manage stormwater runoff from their construction sites, and investing the time and energy upfront is always better than repairing damage and paying penalties later.”
According to the EPA, they and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation performed six inspections at the mine between June 2009 and September 2011, which revealed numerous violations of federal construction stormwater regulations.
Infractions included drainage channels without rock armoring, creating bank erosion, and undercutting and sloughing of channel sidewalls. Inspectors also noted areas where proper erosion control measures were not installed or maintained, which caused the discharge of large amounts of silt and sediment into Rock Creek and Lindblom Creek.
ACG also failed to create, maintain, and implement an adequate Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan that met all requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit for Storm Water Discharges from Construction Activities.
This was not the first time that AGC was charged with storm water run off violations. EPA Region 10’s Enforcement and Compliance Program officials noted that there was a previous enforcement action against AGC for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act up to September 2008. That action was resolved in April 2009 with a consent decree and payment of a penalty.
The Rock Creek mine had been non-operational and in maintenance and care status since November 2008. Alaska Gold Company, subsidiary of Canadian NovaGold Resources, is the owner of the mine. After the NovaGold board of directors decided to shutter the mine for good, AGC started to implement a two-phase reclamation plan this year. NovaGold Vice President, Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability Ron Rimelman said in an email exchange with The Nome Nugget that they are nearing completion of Phase I closure activities at Rock Creek. “The tailings facility dam breach was completed earlier this year and we have now eliminated all of the sources of water that required ongoing water treatment,” Rimelman wrote. “As a result, the water treatment plant has been shut down. We expect to finish all Phase I work within the next few weeks and we only have a few remaining Alaska Gold Corporation employees at the mine. We have not begun Phase II activities.”
The regional Native Corporation, Bering Straits Native Corporation, has been in negotiations with AGC to buy the Rock Creek mine and also the remainder of the Alaska Gold Company. BSNC CEO and President Gail Schubert told the Nugget that BSNC and Novagold are continuing to move towards an agreement, which will transfer the Rock Creek Mine and other Alaska Gold Company assets to BSNC. “It is anticipated that the agreement will be finalized by the end of November,” Schubert said.
As for the future of the mine, it is yet not certain which route BSNC will take. “We are currently examining two possible futures for Rock Creek: reclamation of the mine, or a restart of milling operations. If the mine is restarted, it will be on a much smaller scale than before. Our focus is whether the mine can be operated profitably, considering the best environmental practices available to industry. If these objectives cannot be achieved, then we will move forward with reclamation of Rock Creek,” Schubert wrote.