The company planning development of a large copper/gold mine 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, near Iliamna, will appeal a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the mine.
Mike Heatwole, spokesman for Pebble Limited Partnership, or PLP, said his company has 60 days to file an appeal of the corps’ decision to deny permits in a record of decision issued last week.
Heatwole could not say when the appeal would be filed or the grounds for the appeal but people familiar with the project cite inconsistencies between the record of decision, which found the project against the public interest, and the corps’ final environmental impact statement, which said the mine could developed without adverse impact to commercial and subsistence fisheries in the region.
There may also be inconsistencies in the federal government’s policies over wetlands impact mitigation requirement for major Alaska development projects approved in recent years.
Pebble’s developer, PLP, was required to map out a wetlands protection program in the specific watershed where the mine would be located. The company proposed a permanent conservation easement, or a ban on development, for a large area of the watershed, which the corps rejected.
Previously the corps has allowed mitigation to be done in places outside the region where there are damaged wetlands that can be restored to compensate for wetlands lost in a development project like a mine.
If the appeal is denied and the company is unable to develop its leases there may be litigation in which PLP and former partners might seek compensation for about $800 million spent over several years for exploration, environmental and engineering work.
Alaska Congressman Don Young said compensation may also be sought by the state of Alaska for lost revenues the mine would have paid.
“From the very beginning of the debate surrounding Pebble Mine, I have been consistent in my position that we needed to allow the process to play out and that decision making should be based on sound science,” Young said in a statement.
“This is state land, and to me, this has always been a states’ rights issue. Although I thank the Army Corps of Engineers for their work and am confident that they faithfully followed the process, I remain disappointed that the federal government gets to decide (about a major project on state-owned lands) before Alaskans do,” Young said in a statement.
“Throughout my career, I have always defended our right to extract oil and minerals responsibly,” the congressman said.
“Now there must be a consideration of how the federal government will compensate the state for the loss of economic potential. The proposed mine has always been subject to political intrigue and the whims of outsiders,” he said.
While Bristol Bay fisheries groups and tribes have opposed the mine, they were given important support by out-of-state conservation groups like Trout Unlimited and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In production, Pebble would pay about $125 million per year in corporate income tax, state mining license taxes and mineral royalties, according to data in the final environmental impact statement compiled by the corps. Another $29 million a year would be paid in severance taxes to the Lake and Peninsula Borough, the municipality in the area where the mine is located.
Bristol Bay tribal groups have opposed the mine out of fears that an accidental discharge of mining waste could contaminate streams in the area, potentially damaging rich salmon fisheries in the region.
“The people of Bristol Bay have long known that our home is no place for a mine like Pebble. We celebrate the appropriate action taken by the USACE (Army corps of engineers) in finally acknowledging this underlying truth,” said Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, in a statement:
“Pebble’s proposal is too toxic for our region and cannot be built without devastating the environment that sustains our cultures and communities,” he said.