The budget for developing a large mine near some of the world's most productive wild salmon streams has been increased by $10 million to prepare the Pebble Mine for the government permit process, the mining company behind the proposed project said Wednesday.
Increasing the 2009 budget to $70 million was necessary to further scope out the world-class copper and gold deposit near Bristol Bay and to get Pebble ready for federal and state permitting next year, according to Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Northern Dynasty has partnered with London-based Anglo American to develop the mine.
"We have every confidence that the Pebble Partnership team will propose a project development plan that will earn the support of regulators and project stakeholders," said Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen.
Thiessen said the goal this year is to develop a plan that Alaska citizens and state and federal regulators can consider.
Pebble opponents this week released a poll, conducted several months ago, that found 79 percent of those surveyed believe the mine would damage Bristol Bay's wild salmon fishery.
The poll, commissioned by a coalition of eight village corporations, was conducted by Anchorage-based Craciun Research from May 18 to June 2 and sampled 411 Bristol Bay residents in six parts of the region. The poll had a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points.
Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll promised in a private meeting in London earlier this year that if local communities didn't want Pebble, Anglo American wouldn't build it, said Bobby Andrew, spokesman for the coalition of village corporations.
"A majority of local people know the mine will pollute and destroy subsistence, commercial and sport fishing and adamantly oppose it," Andrew said. "We are asking Anglo American to honor its promise and withdraw from the Pebble project."
Paul Henry, Anglo American's representative in Alaska, said he attended the meeting in London and the key message was that Anglo American would not be associated with a project that damages Alaska's fisheries.
But, he said, there is no mining plan in place.
"To ask anybody to make a decision in this early stage, which is essentially what is being done in the Craciun Research poll, would be based purely on speculation and is not appropriate," he said.
Andrew and the three others who attended the London meeting sent a letter this week to Carroll.
"We are consistently asked to trust the process and wait for the plan of operations, but at what point will Anglo American trust that the people of Bristol Bay won't risk our fishery for this prospect?" the letter says.
John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, said several Native corporations and tribal groups in the Bristol Bay region have expressed support for the project moving forward.
He said 67 different types of permits will be needed, a process that could take three years. Construction could begin in 2013 or 2014, Shively said.