Army Corps starts work on Pebble mine permit

By Dylan Brown | 01/08/2018 01:32 PM EST

The company behind the controversial Pebble mine planned for Alaska’s Bristol Bay has submitted a permit application.

The company behind the controversial Pebble mine planned for Alaska’s Bristol Bay has submitted a permit application. Robert Glenn Ketchum/Natural Resources Defense Council

The Army Corps of Engineers has officially accepted Pebble LP’s permit application to build an open-pit copper and gold mine in southwestern Alaska.

With an agency notice Friday, the Army Corps published the application, formally starting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review that’s likely to take years.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier touted "substantial improvements" in the mining plan, including cutting the project’s footprint in half.

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The updated plan would keep major infrastructure in a single drainage area, shrink the waste-storage area and eliminate the use of cyanide in processing ore.

"We believe that as Alaskans become more familiar with our proposed project design and the environmental safeguards it incorporates, there will an increasing degree of support," Collier said. He also touted what the developers say will be 850 jobs over the mine’s 20-year life.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. CEO Ron Thiessen said his company expects the Army Corps to quickly put out a request for a third-party contractor to help prepare the environmental impact statement.

Critics of the project were quick to condemn the application as confirming long-held fears about the mine’s threats to the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

"Pebble is continuing to deceive and mislead Alaskans, and their ‘new’ mine is nothing more than their same old mine plan in a package they hope is more digestible," said Jenny Weis, spokeswoman for Trout Unlimited’s Save Bristol Bay Campaign.

The mine plan does not include all of what Northern Dynasty estimates is a deposit of 57 billion pounds of copper and 70 million ounces of gold.

Critics say the impacts of the mine will grow as Pebble has no reason to leave that much material in the ground.

"Don’t be fooled by this incomplete proposal," Trout Unlimited Alaska Program Director Nelli Williams said. "Even a cursory review of the materials reveals that the proposed Pebble mine is an existential threat to one of the world’s greatest wild salmon ecosystems and the lucrative salmon economy it supports."

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