The developers of the long stalled Pebble Project in Alaska were granted a land use permit by Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to conduct reclamation and monitoring activities at hundreds of drill sites over the next 12 months.
It was welcome news from the Pebble Limited Partnership as the permit could help clear the way for eventual production, but the permit comes with a commitment of $2 million to ensure any disturbed land is restored.
Alaska Dispatch News reported that the Pebble Limited Partnership applied in October for a land-use permit to continue monitoring and care of mining claims spread over 266,000 acres in the Bristol Bay region.
The summer work covered by the permit will include inspections, upkeep of facilities, and reclamation including filling of holes drilled into the earth to remove core samples.
The Pebble deposit is believed to be one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth ever discovered, according to Northern Dynasty, owner of the Pebble Limited Partnership. The current resource estimate includes 6.44 Gt (7.1 billion st) in the measured and indicated categories containing 57 billion lbs of copper, 70 million oz of gold, 3.4 billion lbs of molybdenum and 344 million oz of silver.
The project has drawn intense scrutiny and opposition from Alaska Native tribes and fishermen for years over concerns the huge proposed gold and copper mine would devastate Bristol Bay's world-class salmon runs.
Pebble has battled various interests in court over the project. Two federal court cases involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are currently on hold.
The DNR reviewed more than 1,000 public comments about the project before issuing the permit and said the new land-use permit with new requirements came after "exhaustive analysis."
The goal is to ensure good stewardship of state lands for a project with high public interest, DNR said.
The state estimates it would cost $1.9 million to remove all of Pebble's equipment from state land and another $100,000 to do the inspection and restoration required under this year's permit.
In 2014, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency issued a preliminary determination that blocked the mine from being built, but it was brought to court by Pebble Limited Partnership. The group claims that the agency manipulated scientific results and that some of its staff should have been found to be in conflict of interest.
Since then there has been a long string of actions implemented by environmentalists, Native American groups, and even the EPA itself to prevent Pebble from going forward. They all have expressed concerns about the “irreversible negative impacts” of the mine in the one of the planet's greatest wild salmon fisheries, and the risk it represents to 14,000 jobs and the $252 million-a-year the local fishing industry generates.
DNR was forced into seeking public review by the Alaska Supreme Court, which in 2015 ruled the agency was violating the state Constitution by allowing extensive work without any public notice or finding that the work was for the common good.
Pebble said the DNR review allows its ongoing work to continue.
"We will continue our site operations in 2017 in full compliance with the state's permit conditions, and in a manner that protects the broader public interest in the lands and resources surrounding the Pebble property," Tom Collier, Pebble CEO, said in a written statement.