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Pebble mine developers earmark $107 million for permitting

Mary Pemberton

A Canadian mining company eyeing development of a huge copper and gold deposit near one of the world's premier salmon fisheries said Tuesday that $107 million has been allocated to prepare the mine for permitting later this year.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. said the Pebble mine project should be ready for permitting this fall in a process that could take several years.

The 2012 work project money will be used to provide a detailed description of the proposed project.

Issues such as the mine's power requirements, employment opportunities and strategies to mitigate any environmental impacts will be included, said Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, the group behind the mine project. The mine is a joint venture between Northern Dynasty and Anglo American of the United Kingdom, which has spent approximately $400 million to advance the project.

Public meetings will be held with stakeholders in the fall to discuss project details such as how mine waste will be handled and how Pebble will be able to coexist with Bristol Bay fisheries, Heatwole said.

Pebble is one of the largest deposits of its kind in the world. The companies say it has the potential of producing more than 80 billion pounds of copper, more than 107 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum. The companies say Pebble also could provide an estimated 1,000 well-paying, full-time jobs.

But opponents say the mine poses an unacceptable level of danger to salmon, the region's valuable renewable resource.

Tom Tilden, chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and a former mayor of Dillingham, is a commercial fisherman who supported the mine early on but now opposes it, in part because, he said, locals have been given too little information. The public doesn't even know what type of mine is being proposed, whether it would be a strip mine or underground or a combination, he said.

Heatwole said the Pebble Partnership will have technical experts at the fall meetings to discuss particulars. He said the mining companies are eager to share information.

Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ronald Thiessen said the companies are focused on finalizing the project description, adding that it will meet and exceed federal and state environmental regulations and permitting requirements. At the same time, Pebble will provide "significant benefits to the region, the state and the nation," he said in a statement.

Tilden said he likes the idea of good jobs in the Bristol Bay region but not at the expense of the salmon fisheries. He said he doubts that earthen dams to contain mining waste would not eventually leak in the earthquake-prone area. He said he looked into the geology of the area for the proposed mine and didn't like what he found.

"I found out the type of soil it is in and if you mix it with water, then it would basically be battery acid," he said.

Commercial fisherman Everett Thompson of Naknek said he recently attended one of Pebble's environmental assessment meetings in which water flow and gravel composition were discussed.

His concerns for the sulfide mine were raised when the discussion turned to an underground mine that would be below sea level and would require the exchange of enormous amounts of water.

Thompson, a commercial fisherman for 29 years, said he can't imagine how that would be good for fish.

"How are you going to control that?" he asked.


By MARY PEMBERTON
Associated Press