Federal officials tasked with deciding whether to issue a crucial permit for the proposed Pebble mine, in Southwest Alaska, have identified as a preferred transportation route acreage owned by Alaska Native entities adamantly opposed to the mine.
The decision announced on Friday, May 22, by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), identified the 82-mile two lane access road along the northern shore of Lake Iliamna as the least environmentally damaging way to develop a wetlands mitigation plan for the mine. The choice of a northern transportation route would change the port site for the mine to Diamond Point, which lies further north on Cook Inlet.
The USACE announcement was hailed as good news by Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) in Anchorage, Alaska. The PLP is a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining group with headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia.
USACE said during the teleconference they expect to complete a final environmental impact statement for the mine in June or July, followed this fall by a record of decision, which would trigger significant federal permits for the mine, including a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, allowing for construction in wetlands.
A portion of the land over which the new transportation route would be laid traverses Bristol Bay Native Corp. (BBNC) surface and subsurface lands, including at its eastern terminus, which sits on property jointly owned by subsidiaries of BBNC and Igiugig Village Council (IVC). Both entities had previously advised the Corps and the PLP that these lands are not and will not be available to accommodate the mine, BBNC said in a statement issued shortly after the Corps’ announcement.
The battle over development of the PLP’s copper, gold and molybdenum mine began nearly two decades ago, when Northern Dynasty Minerals, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickenson, found a large deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum on state land in the area of the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.
Backers of the mine contend that they can build and operate the mine without harming the fishery, and, in Collier’s words, “bring substantial long-term economic activity and revenue to this part of Alaska. As interested stakeholder groups begin to see that the project can be done without harming the fishery and the benefits it will bring, we believe support for the project will continue to grow.”
Collier acknowledged that the new route would pass through land owned by BBNC, Pedro Bay Corp. and Igiugig Village Council. The Igiugig Village Council also owns the land at Diamond Point where the PLP wants to build a port on Cook Inlet.
In fact, according to Christina Salmon, a board member of the Igiugig Village Council and environmental manager for Iliaska Environmental LLC, a IVC subsidiary, Pebble has not even reached out to the council to try to negotiate an agreement. “Current plans are for a subsidiary of BBNC in partnership with a wholly owned subsidiary of the Igiugig Village Council, to establish a rock quarry, with large rock to be used for shoreline protection and breakwaters,” she said.
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