The Alaska Department of Natural Resources issued a final commissioner's decision Jan. 22 in favor of offering a right of way over state lands to Donlin Gold LLC for a natural gas pipeline from Beluga on Cook Inlet to the company's proposed mine site near Crooked Creek.
The decision, signed by Commissioner Corri Feige, proposes to offer the lease over 207 miles of state lands for 30 years, the maximum period allowed by law.
Feige found that Donlin is "fit, willing and able to properly construct, operate, maintain and terminate the Donlin Pipeline."
The decision follows a series of public notices, hearings, community outreach and comment periods which began in 2014.
In addition to review of the pipeline application, the state participated as a cooperating agency in the National Environmental Policy Act process which resulted in modifications of the preferred route to minimize overlap and impacts to the Iditarod trail and Dalzell Gorge.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, lead agency of the NEPA process, authorized Donlin's preferred route based on the final environmental impact statement.
DNR received comments requesting that the pipeline be relocated north of the Alaska Range to low lying black spruce forests over concerns for wildlife habitat, slow growing vegetation, heavy snowfall and avalanche risk, subsistence and traditional uses, headwater streams, and effects on permafrost.
DNR said the route along the face of the Alaska Range is fairly direct from its exit near Farewell westward to the mine site, adding that the soils on the North Face of the Alaska Range have fewer wetlands and less permafrost than the lowlands in the black spruce forest.
The pipeline will be buried along most of its length in the area.
Buried pipelines don't prevent animal migration, grazing or calving post construction, DNR said.
Restoration and re-vegetation of disturbed areas and stabilization, rehabilitation and reclamation will be required following construction.
DNR also received comments of support, including those for new job opportunities in the area, burial of the line to minimize impacts to land users, excess capacity in the line to facilitate gas supply to other users in the area, a well designed pipeline, and Donlin's community outreach during exploration and project development.
Noting that a mine site is energy intensive, comments praised the use of natural gas, rather than diesel as a fuel due to cleaner power generation.