Alaska's Pebble Mine project kicks off permitting process
ANCHORAGE, Alaska/TORONTO, Dec 21 (Reuters) – The would-be developer of the widely opposed Pebble Mine copper and gold project in salmon-rich southwestern Alaska announced on Thursday it will file its first application for a permit.
The application is a milestone for a project that seemed dead during the Obama administration. Now it is moving forward under President Donald Trump, a champion of increased domestic mining.
The Pebble Limited Partnership led by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd said it will submit an application Friday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a wetlands-fill permit, a key authorization required under the Clean Water Act.
"For the Pebble team, this day has been a long time in the making and is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work,” Tom Collier, chief executive of the Pebble partnership, said in a statement.
Pebble Mine, proposed for more than a decade, is the world's biggest undeveloped gold and copper project. Located in Alaska's Bristol Bay region, the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, it has drawn opposition from environmentalists, some native groups and sport fishermen.
The Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency had blocked the project in 2014 even before a permit application had been filed, a move reversed by the current EPA this year.
The permit application announcement comes three days after the partnership said it gained a new member, First Quantum Minerals, the world's eighth-biggest copper producer, which will acquire an option to buy a 50 percent stake in the project for $1.5 billion.
For four years, the partnership had been limited to Northern Dynasty, whose previous partner, Anglo American, dropped out in 2013.
On Thursday, Northern Dynasty outlined a scaled-back plan for the mine to address concerns about the salmon fishery, reducing its footprint and announcing no primary mine operations would be located in the Upper Talarik watershed.
"Not only are we confident that Pebble as currently envisaged will secure development permits from federal, state and local regulatory agencies, we are confident it will co-exist with the world-class fisheries of Bristol Bay," Collier said.
The company estimated that Pebble Mine operations will annual payments of $49-$66 million to Alaskan coffers and create 1,500 to 2,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Opponents vowed to continue their fight.
In a joint statement, native organizations, a commercial fishing spokesman, the environmental group Trout Unlimited and the speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives condemned the proposal.
"The vast majority of the people I serve are more resolved than ever in their determination to protect their livelihoods and their way of life," House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said in the statement.
U.S. listed shares of Northern Dynasty added more than 6 percent on Thursday to close at $1.83.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen and Susan Taylor; Editing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)