Correction: In a previous version of this story, KBBI incorrectly stated that Northern Dynasty Minerals was no longer affiliated with the Pebble Partnership. In fact, Northern Dynasty Minerals is the sole owner of the Pebble Partnership. KBBI regrets the error.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly heard an update from the Pebble Project at its regular meeting on Tuesday as the company moves toward the completion of its federal permitting process.
Project leaders from the Pebble Partnership said they completed groundwork in the Anchor Point area this summer in anticipation of the mining project going forward after the federal and state government approve its permits. If approved, the developers would be able to mine a gold, copper and molybdenum deposit in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska. Some of the infrastructure would be in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which includes some land on the west side of Cook Inlet near Lake Iliamna.
The project is controversial, particularly in Homer, where there would be jobs generated by the mining project but many residents also fish for living. Many commenters at the meeting expressed opposition to the project, primarily based on concern for the salmon habitat, particularly in the event of a spill. Over the years since the project was first proposed, the Pebble Partnership has scaled back the mine size and operation, partly in response to public concerns. It still includes an open-pit mine, a pipeline, an ice-breaking ferry across Lake Iliamna and a port near Amakdedori Creek.
If the project gets final approval from both the federal and state government, a compressor station would be installed near Anchor Point and a gas pipeline would cross the inlet to supply the project with power, said Mike Heatwole, Pebble’s vice president of public affairs. During this summer, Pebble drilled a number of test holes in the Anchor Point area for geotechnical information and leased several vessels out of Homer for seabed studies. Between the two projects this summer, Pebble estimated the activities contributed about $1.52 million to the local economy.
In response to a question from assembly member Willy Dunne, Heatwole said the company believes the project to be financially stable and is in conversations with various investors. Questions arose about the feasibility of the project after its investors pulled out leaving Northern Dynasty Minerals the sole owner of the Pebble Partnership.
A letter from Gov. Mike Dunleavy to a potential Canadian investor offering support for the project once it is permitted was made public in August as well, drawing both praise and criticism for the governor’s apparent support for Pebble.
"The governor’s letter, as I read, was a defense of the state’s permitting process in terms of just allowing access of the project into that permitting process. In the reading of the letter, I didn’t see anywhere in there any mention of streamlined permitting, " said Heatwole.
Assembly member Kelly Cooper said she was concerned that she had yet to see reports from any independent scientists that validate the company’s claim that it will be safe for salmon.
"I have not been able to find any scientist that’s not paid by the mining industry that tells me this will not hurt the fish,” said Cooper.
James Fueg, Pebble’s Vice President of permitting, responded to Assemblymember Cooper, saying the review by the federal and state government agencies for the permits is independent.
The next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is on October 8th in Soldotna.