Mine developer sees review as positive for Alaska project

Mine developer sees review as positive for Alaska project

JUNEAU, Alaska — 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 provide.

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 McLerran, 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 favourable 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 Defence 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.

___

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of McLerran.

Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

soup
Rimbey FCSS to introduce the Cultural Community Kitchen

The Cultural Community Kitchen sessions will be held at the Rimbey Co-op

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey. Photo Submitted
Rimbey hotel gets new lease on life

The Quality Inn & Suites in Rimbey is now open and taking bookings

Leanne Evans, Rimbey Neighbourhood Place Program Coordinator, accepts a donation of $5,000 from Kevin Maxwell manager of Field Support for Telus. (Photo Submitted)
Rimbey Neighbourhood Place making big changes behind the scenes

Rimbey Neighbourhood Place recently recieved a $5,000 donation from Telus

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier tests negative for COVID-19 but will isolate for a week

Kenney said he will isolate until Oct. 29 and, in the meantime, work from home

JJ Collett Natural Area Foundation held its AGM on Oct. 19 at the Ponoka Legion. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
De-listing Alberta parks creates ‘risk’ for coal mining: CPAWS

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society speaks at JJ Collett AGM

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Most Read