Mine developer sees review as positive for Alaska project

Mine developer sees review as positive for Alaska project

Pebble is on track to win key approvals. Critics say it has been rushed and is inadequate.

  • By BECKY BOHRER Associated Press
  • Friday, July 24, 2020 3:15pm
  • NewsPebble Mine

By BECKY BOHRER

Associated Press

A proposed copper and gold mine that critics fear would imperil a major U.S. salmon fishery got a boost Friday with the release of an environmental review that the developer of the Pebble Mine sees as laying the groundwork for key federal approvals as early as this summer.

The environmental review released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggested the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would not measurably affect fish numbers.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which is owned by Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and is working to advance the mine, praised the corps’ work. Opponents called it inadequate and scientifically lacking.

The project has received what critics see as a lifeline during the Trump presidency, but there’s no guarantee it will be built. Besides permit approval from the corps and other federal agencies, the mine will need state approvals and, as currently proposed, access to lands that some landowners say they won’t provid.

[Mine opponents troubled by letter]

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which under the Obama administration proposed restricting development of the project, retains the option to invoke that so-called veto process again if it deems that warranted. Some argue a change in administration could affect the project’s trajectory. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president.

Mine opponents also have vowed to keep fighting.

“I think as people dig into the document, they will find that the quality of the science is so lacking, there are so many gaps and so many flaws, that’s it’s going to be litigated from here to kingdom come,” said Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, a group that advocates for salmon and salmon habitat.

Tom Collier, Pebble partnership CEO, saw the review as a cause to celebrate, calling it a significant milestone and validation for the project.

The Pebble partnership saw as unfair the attempt to restrict development, which was never finalized and dropped by EPA last year. The company argued the proposed restrictions were based on hypothetical mine plans and that the project should have a chance to go through the permitting process.

Dennis McLaren, who was an EPA regional administrator during the Obama administration, said EPA drew from Northern Dynasty documents in its analysis.

Collier has expressed confidence in the outcome of the current corps process, saying Pebble believes the planned mine “will be judged to be a project of merit” and receive a favorable permitting decision as early as this summer.

Northern Dynasty, for years, has been looking for a partner, and Pebble sees securing approval from the corps as aiding that effort.

The corps, when it makes a decision, could issue a permit, approve a permit with conditions or issue a denial. Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said a denial wouldn’t prevent Pebble from filing another application. But he said a denial would be the “final nail in the coffin for any further investor interest.”

The corps must wait at least 30 days from the publishing of the environmental review before entering a record of decision.

Pebble is proposing an open-pit mine and related infrastructure. The partnership, on its website, says the mine “will NOT harm the fish” and that the permitting process will validate that. It says the Pebble Mine would create jobs.

Collier said in the environmental review process, the corps was designated the umpire.

“We took our science to the corps and the other side took their science to the corps and the corps was the umpire and they called it our way,” he said.

The EPA has said the Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. Salmon also is important to Alaska Native communities that rely on it for subsistence.

The corps review states that under normal operations, the alternatives it looked at “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”

Under the alternative, identified as Pebble’s preferred option, the direct impact area would include permanent impacts to about 2,230 acres of wetlands and other waters and 105 miles of streams, and there would be temporary or indirect impacts to others, according to the report.

The corps said it made changes based on comments to an earlier released draft and filled gaps identified in the draft, including for wetlands and vegetation data.

Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, in a statement said the review “is not the thorough, science-based assessment that we were promised.”

Pebble critics say the corps’ review has been rushed and questioned the feasibility of a proposed route that crosses land that Pebble does not have permission to use. The corps previously said it had preliminarily determined a northern transportation route to be part of a “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.”

The Igiugig Village Council, in a statement, said its lands in the area are not available for use. The council “is committed to the sustainability and health of future generations and Pebble does not fit into our vision for a thriving future,” the statement said.

Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesperson, has said Pebble intends to engage with landowners along the northern route and believes it “will be successful in obtaining access to the transportation corridor necessary for the project.”

Collier said work remains on mitigation plans that will be factored in as part of a final decision.

In this July 2007 photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to build a copper and gold mine near the headwaters of a major U.S. salmon fishery in southwest Alaska, says it plans to offer residents in the region a dividend. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)

In this July 2007 photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to build a copper and gold mine near the headwaters of a major U.S. salmon fishery in southwest Alaska, says it plans to offer residents in the region a dividend. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Former state labor commissioner Ed Flanagan, State Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, and the Rev. Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage wheel boxes of signed petitions into a state Division of Elections office on Jan. 9. The petitions were for a ballot initiative to increase the state’s minimum wage, mandate paid sick leave and ensure that workers are not required to hear employers’ political or religious messages. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Minimum wage increase, ranked choice repeal have enough signatures to be on ballot

A pair of ballot measures have enough public support to appear on… Continue reading

State senators meet with members of the media at the Alaska State Capitol to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

Most Read