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

General Support Services workers were picketing on 46 St. at the entrances to the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury on Oct. 26 . (Emily Jaycox/PonokaNews)
Ponoka Centennial Centre support workers strike

General Support Services staff hit the picket line Oct. 26

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr speaks. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

2020 Ponoka business awards
Ponoka chamber 2020 Business Award winners

The Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce 2020 Business Awards were held… Continue reading

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owner found

Father and son found miniature horse while out for a walk at JJ Collett

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

(Black Press file photo)
Maskwacis RCMP welcomes new detachment commander

The Maskwacis RCMP detachment has a new detachment commander, Inspector Leanne MacMillan.… Continue reading

Pumpkins for the 46th Annual WDACS Pumpkin Ball on display at Vision Credit Union Wetaskiwin. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
46th Annual Pumpkin Ball held virtually this year

This year the pumpkins were sold over a six-day online auction.

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

Most Read