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With permit for mine denied, Pebble readies appeal while opponents push for permanent protections

Pebble Mine Update
Pebble Mine Update
Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 7:44 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Wednesday morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its long-anticipated decision on the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, denying the project the vital permit it needed to move forward.

After more than a decade of research, thousands of public comments and nearly three years of the federal permitting process, the corps boiled down its decision into two sentences: “USACE evaluated the application as documented in this ROD and determined that the proposed discharge does not comply with the 404 (b)(1) Guidelines. In addition, the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

The news was a relief to the mine’s wide assortment of opponents, but the company says it stands by its plans.

“We’re obviously dismayed by today’s decision, mainly because we’ve been working for quite some time to get to this point,” Pebble Partnership Spokesperson Mike Heatwole said. “We had a very positive environmental impact statement that was released by the corps of engineers in July that said the project can be developed responsibly. We still believe that.”

The company has 60 days to appeal USACE’s decision. Heatwole says that is the company’s plan.

Meanwhile, mine opponents are celebrating the corp permitting decision while also looking for further action.

“My initial reaction was a little bit of surprise, a little bit of relief, but also a little bit of, ‘OK, now we have more work to do,’” Lindsay Layland, deputy director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay said. “For one, we need to move forward with pursuing permanent protections. Just because the Pebble Partnership might be suffering today and might go bankrupt tomorrow, it doesn’t mean that that mineral deposit is going anywhere. So the next step is going to be talking with our elected officials, talking with Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and seeing what action they can do and introduce potentially into Congress, or legislative action to make sure that the watershed of Bristol Bay is protected in the long term.”

In an appropriations bill earlier this month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski set aside funds for appraisals and land valuation for areas such as the Bristol Bay watershed. The senator described that as the first step in providing long-term protections for the area.

“In a perfect world, the lands would in which the Pebble deposit sits would be tribal ownership, people who rightfully and originally have been on that space since time immemorial, but it’s hard to say what a perfect scenario may be. In a nutshell, it’s something that would be law, that couldn’t be challenged in court, something that would hold up to any other attempt to dismantle it. An administrative action, that can always be reversed,” Layland said. “I think that the folks in Bristol Bay, at least the tribes that I represent, they really want to make sure that we’re at the table with any conversations that Sen. Murkowski is having regarding long term protections for Bristol Bay. So that’s step one. We really can’t even talk about what potential scenarios might be in the future without ensuring that we are having direct and immediate conversations with her and with her staff.”

While the news was welcomed broadly, including by both Senators Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, some residents closest to the project were disappointed in USACE’s decision.

“Iliamna Native Limited and Iliamna Development Corp. has more than fifteen years of experience working with the Pebble Limited Partnership during the exploration and permitting stages of the Pebble Project. It was a remarkable time to live in the region because we could provide our shareholders and regional partners with jobs to support themselves; as well as keeping our shareholders living in their Alaska Native communities,” Lorene “Sue” Anelon, president of Iliamna’s village corporation, said in a statement.

In her statement, Anelon says she was disappointed that the permitting process became politicized and that she is confident the appeal process will be productive for the Pebble Partnership.

“We are witnessing our local people leaving the communities in search of more economic opportunity. If we continue down this process and there are no alternative projects on the horizon, we will expect our communities to shrink in population because our local people must leave to find gainful employment,” Anelon said. “This alone will contribute to the death of our small communities, as well as our cultures, since younger people are not able to learn their traditions from the elders in the community.”

The Pebble deposit sits on state land.

Alaska’s News Source reached out to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office Wednesday morning. The governor has made no comment yet by the time of publication.

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