Murkowski: Pebble should provide more specifics

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called on the companies seeking to develop a massive copper and gold prospect near the headwaters of a premier salmon fishery to release a mine plan soon, saying they are contributing to uncertainty surrounding the proposed Pebble mine.

Murkowski, in a letter to officials from Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., Anglo American plc and the Pebble Limited Partnership, said clarity over how the parties plan to proceed is in the best interest of everyone involved.

The Pebble project is a joint venture between Northern Dynasty and Anglo American. Pebble Limited Partnership was created to design, permit, build and run the mine.

John Shively, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, said development of the project is complex and “getting it right takes time.”

“We will share a plan with Alaskans when it is ready and meets the high standards we have set for development at Pebble,” he said in a statement, adding that he planned to follow up with Murkowski directly. “This remains an exciting opportunity for Alaska’s future, and we look forward to moving on to this next phase.”

Murkowski’s letter was dated July 1, one day after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency closed the public comment period on an agency study that found construction of a large-scale mine near the headwaters of Bristol Bay could have major impacts on streams and wetlands even without a mishap.

EPA said its revised assessment drew from plans developed for Northern Dynasty, data collected by Pebble Limited Partnership and its own experts to come up with three different mine scenarios. The agency’s initial watershed assessment used a hypothetical mine scenario, drawing criticism.

EPA plans to release a final report sometime this year.

Murkowski has opposed any effort by EPA to preemptively veto the proposed mine. She said in her letter that that would deprive government agencies and others of the specifics needed to make an informed decision.

“But failure to describe the project and submit permit applications has the same effect,” she wrote.

The timeline for releasing project specifics and possibly moving into permitting has slipped several times over the last few years. Officials have said the current target is to move into permitting this year.

“For nearly a decade, Alaskans have been told that these actions are imminent. This has generated a broad range of responses from people throughout the state,” she wrote. “Yet today, after years of waiting, it is anxiety, frustration and confusion that have become the norm in many communities — rather than optimism about the new economic opportunities that responsible development of the Pebble deposit might be able to deliver.”

Murkowski said she wants the companies to establish a timeline and stick to it.