Northern Dynasty’s Pebble project scores as EPA steps back

Northern Dynasty Minerals is hoping to tap a $100 billion copper-gold deposit in the region. (Image courtesy of Northern Dynasty.)

Northern Dynasty Minerals (TSX: NDM) appears to be back on track towards obtaining final permits for its proposed massive copper-gold mine in Alaska after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declined to subject the project to water pollution restrictions evaluations, which have effectively stalled the project since they were outlined in 2014.

The move reduces the likelihood of a potential confrontation with the Army Corps of Engineers over the company’s proposed Pebble copper-gold-silver mine, near Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska.

The move paves the way for a positive federal license decision this summer, which would allow Northern Dynasty’s subsidiary to begin building the mine

It also paves the way for a positive federal license decision this summer, which would allow Northern Dynasty’s subsidiary — Pebble Limited Partnership — to begin building the mine.

Pebble scored a big win last year after the EPA scrapped the proposed restrictions on mining operations in Bristol Bay, which prevented the project’s consideration.

The agency also issued a letter saying the project “may” result in substantial and unacceptable impacts to aquatic resources. Such observation was a specific step in a sequence established to deal with inter-agency disagreements over Clean Water Act permits.

Yesterday, however, it issued new a letter downplaying the possible loss of streams and other wetlands the project might cause.

Christopher Hladick, the agency’s regional administrator for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, wrote to the Alaska district engineer, Col. David Hibner, that the EPA still had concerns about the plan. The worries include the fact that dredging for the open-pit mine “may well contribute to the permanent loss of 2,292 acres of wetlands and… 105.4 miles of streams.”

Northern Dinasty is calling it “another indication of positive progress for the project.”

“Our core principle has always been for the project to be done in a way that does not harm the fishery or water resources in Bristol Bay,” it said.

Opponents to the mine say EPA’s new stance makes a potential veto on the Army Corps of Engineers’ dredge and fill permit less likely.

They noted that the agency and other key agencies have raised concerns the Corps has yet to address.

“There are still many substantive issues with the project proposal that have yet to be resolved,” Bristol Bay Native Corp. vice president, Daniel Cheyette, said in a statement.

Checkered past

Pebble’s development has been shrouded in controversy and delays, including the EPA’s decision in 2014 to propose restricting the discharge of mining waste and other materials in the area.

Criticism prompted the Vancouver-based company to submit a new, smaller mine plan that includes lined tailings, and discard the use of cyanide in the gold extraction process.

Northern Dynasty raises $10 million to further develop mine in Alaska
There are currently four operating mines and four late stage development projects in Alaska. (Map courtesy of Northern Dynasty Minerals.)

The miner was finally able to move forward with the project’s permitting process after Donald Trump assumed as President of the US.

For decades, explorers and developers have been attracted to resources-rich southwestern Alaska, known for holding significant deposits of gold, copper, molybdenum and other minerals near the headwaters of two rivers flowing into Bristol Bay.

But conservationists, local activists, fishermen and federal regulators have argued that industrial, open-pit mining operations to extract the lode threatens the region’s thriving sockeye salmon fishery.

If and when the mine moves into production, it would be the largest in North America.

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