ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially accepts a permit application from the Pebble Partnership - the group which intends to develop a precious metals and minerals mine near a major salmon fishery in Alaska - it has now also committed to a full environmental review of the proposed mine.
The Pebble Limited Partnership filed the permit application with the corps in December.
"Our application was sufficient," said Pebble Limited Partnership spokesperson Mike Heatwole, "which means we now officially get to begin the permitting and review process for the Pebble project."
Project details released Jan. 5 would indicate that the Pebble Partnership group has already made substantial changes to its development plans, including alterations that would lessen the negative environmental impact: Notables include a development footprint "less than half the size that was previously published"; they will focus on one specific drainage instead of multiple, limiting it to the North Fork Koktuli; cyanide use has been cut out.
"We've taken a good hard look at the environmental concerns people have raised," Heatwole said. "And the law is the law. There is the Clean Water Act, water standards - we have to meet all those requirements, or we will not get a permit to operate.
"All we have sought, and what's great about this phase, is to get to the starting line, get our project out there, what we actually propose to do."
Still, though, the plans include an open pit mine, tailings storage facility, and other infrastructure, such as roads and at least one power plant. Pebble representatives said they envision a mining rate of up to 90 million tons per year, and that the project could be built in just four years should the necessary permits be secured, as the project is "substantially smaller" than prior versions.
Still, critics say the proposal only reinforces concerns about the impact of the project on the Bristol Bay region.
Trustees for Alaska, a group dedicated to sustaining, protecting and representing Alaskan resources, called the deal "a lump of coal from mining companies." They're not the only ones upset about the acceptance of the application.
"The paper the Army Corps is reviewing right now makes us incredibly worried," said Nellie Williams of Trout Unlimited,"because this is just the tip of the iceberg.
"Mining companies don't leave money in the ground," she said. "It's really important that we look at the full picture."
The next big phase includes the naming of a third party contractor which will administer the environmental impact studies. Public comment will also be a large portion of that same phase.