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After decades, a decision nears on the Pebble mine

This is an aerial view of a work camp in the area of the proposed Pebble Mine in Iliamna, Alaska, seen on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. (Bill Roth / ADN archive)

The proposed Pebble mine near Bristol Bay is nearing a landmark decision that could set the stage for the project’s approval, decades after developers first started considering the project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said a final environmental impact statement is scheduled to be released a week from Friday.

The document, a review of the mine’s potential impacts on nearby land and rivers, could mean a final decision in late August for the federal agency to permit the controversial project.

The Corps will hold a call with reporters on Monday to “set expectations for the release of the (final environmental impact statement) on July 24,” said John Budnik, a spokesman with the Corps.

“This will mark one of the most significant milestones for the Pebble Project,” said Tom Collier, chief executive of Pebble Limited Partnership, in a prepared statement.

The developer released the statement on Wednesday highlighting the Corps’ timeline.

Pebble is confident the final environmental statement “will demonstrate why we believe the project can be done without harm to the Bristol Bay fishery,” Collier said.

Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said the group expected the Corps to release the final report during the height of salmon fishing in Bristol Bay, when local residents and fishermen are busy catching and preparing fish.

The Corps and Pebble have been “in lockstep” in support of the project since Pebble applied for a permit more than two years ago, she said.

“It’s safe to assume the final environmental impact statement will be an inadequate assessment that completely underestimates the impacts of this project on Bristol Bay,” she said.

The state will also need to permit the project, and the group plans to continue fighting it, she said.

Northern Dynasty Minerals, owner of Pebble Limited, has pursued the project for close to two decades. Mining company Cominco, a predecessor of Teck Resources, began exploring the prospect in the 1980s but later sold the leases to Northern Dynasty.

Located near Bristol Bay’s salmon-producing headwaters, the project has been a lightning rod for conservation groups, fishermen and local residents opposed to its development.

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