Mixed emotions and debates arise regarding jobs, economic development, and many other issues in rural Alaska, as lawmakers push towards an independent pebble mine study being conducted at Bristol Bay.
The Pebble Mine project is a controversial proposal by Northern Dynasty Minerals to build one of the largest gold and copper mines in the world, in southwest Alaska, near Lake Iliamna. Northern Dynasty has not yet applied for permits, but their current proposal involves both a large open pit and an underground mine, as well as removal of the water from the headwaters of Upper Talarik Creek and the Koktuli River which are important fish habitats. The site sits at the headwaters of two major Bristol Bay drainages: the Nushagak and the Kvichak. Those in opposition say that the project poses a large threat to the region’s water and salmon. This proposal has become a major political issue in Alaska, pitting pro-mining forces against local native villages and commercial and sport fishermen.
The Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) announced earlier this year that it projects to invest approximately $73 million in Alaska’s Pebble Project. The company also stated in a press release that the 2010 work program will continue the company’s community investment initiatives, including funding and support for the Pebble Fund. As of February, the Pebble Fund had awarded $1.6 million capital for 51 projects through 35 qualified organizations in Southwest Alaska. According to Anchorage Daily News, Govenor Sean Parnell is requesting that the state have the best information available as it evaluates the potential effects of developing a copper-and-gold prospect at Bristol Bay, which is home to a premier commercial sockeye salmon fishery.
Gov. Parnell, however, stopped short of endorsing the third-party review that two lawmakers have requested, saying the permitting process is meant to elicit “the best data on all sides.”
Earlier this year, the Board of Fisheries asked the Legislature to study permitting standards and environmental safeguards, and take any steps deemed necessary to protect fish and game habitat in the area.
BusinessWeek reports that after a joint legislative hearing that included a critique of the proposed Pebble mine and state and mine officials, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, asked the Legislative Council for funding for a third-party review.
“Decisions concerning the Pebble prospect will have everlasting consequences,” the two wrote to Rep. John Harris, the Legislative Council chairman. “We must be sure we have given state agencies the guidance and tools they need to make the right determinations in this situation.”
But Harris said in an interview with BusinessWeek that there’s no money under the council’s purview appropriated for a study. Such a request would need to go through the legislative process, which is now in its money-crunching last weeks, he said.
Assuming there is a reallocation of funds to support a study, Harris said the council — if it were given oversight of the funds — would still need to decide whether to move ahead with a study.