A representative for the Pebble Mine Project gave an update on the project to members of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce on Wednesday.
Mark Hamilton, vice president of external affairs for the Pebble Limited Partnership, spoke in general about responsible resource development in the state, but also pushed back against some of the criticisms that the mine project has received from environmental activists.
“We will constantly be dealing with protests of whatever development project we want to do,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been looking at this for 50 years. When we announced the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline, it was widely criticized. People said the caribou would go the way of the buffalo, the uncontrollable permafrost melting, earthquakes will turn it into a sprinkler system of crude oil, it’ll destroy Native culture, et cetera et cetera. That was 50 years ago. None of those things have happened.”
The Pebble Mine Project seeks to develop an open-pit mine that would extract copper, gold, molybdenum and other rare earth minerals in an area north of Iliamna Lake, according to their website. The stakeholders of the project are currently undergoing the federal permitting process with the Army Corps of Engineers, which plans to release the final version of the environmental impact statement for the project later this year. The draft version of the EIS is available for viewing at www.pebbleprojecteis.com.
One prominent criticism from environmental activists is that the draft version of the Environmental Impact Statement was rushed and that the Corps didn’t take enough into consideration when determining the impact of the mine on surrounding areas. Hamilton said that this was not the case, and that the investors of the project are the ones who would most like to see the process done right.
“Nobody wants the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed any more than the person who put in the permit,” Hamilton said. “That’s just a simple reality, a simple deduction.”
The plan for the scale of the mine has changed over the years, and Hamilton said that the Pebble Partnership has decided to reduce the size of the mine in the wake of this pressure. The mine is scheduled to operate for 20 years, which is also a reduction from the original proposal. Because of the reduced size, the mine will no longer be near the Upper Talarik Creek, Hamilton said.
Hamilton asserted this means that the mine will not have a chance to impact that waterway, which flows into Lake Iliamna.
The mine will not use cyanide to extract gold deposits, Hamilton said, and there will be no waste rock piles that would need to be submerged in water to avoid becoming acidic.
Hamilton also touched on the potential positive impact that the presence of the mine would have on communities in the Lake and Peninsula Borough. The road tariffs associated with the project, Hamilton said, would quadruple the borough’s budget, the mine would employ people from the area and the project would provide power to those communities at costs cheaper than what they currently pay.
Hamilton said that even though the Final EIS is expected to be released later this year, the process to acquire state permits could take another three years or more, meaning that any actual construction on the project will not be taking place any time soon.
“I like to tell people that a junior in high school today could get a master’s degree in mining and engineering before we produce our first piece of copper,” Hamilton said. “Pebble will fall into the same category that many many mines have, and that is, it will have taken more time to actually produce than the projected life of the mine. That’s how difficult it is to get a permit.”