Pebble mine project announces new partner for copper, gold mine

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Pebble Limited Partnership has announced that it is signing a deal with a new partner for its controversial gold and copper mine in Southwest Alaska.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which owns the Pebble Limited Partnership, says it has entered into a framework agreement with First Quantum Minerals Ltd. that gives the new partner the option to purchase a 50 percent interest in the Pebble Limited Partnership.

But first, in the coming days, First Quantum is expected to make a $37.5 million payment to Northern Dynasty, which is to start permitting for the Pebble Project. Philip Pascall, First Quantum’s Chairman and CEO, says it was important to get the permitting process underway, before the end of the year.

The agreement has First Quantum making equal payments for each of the next four years, for a $150 million total toward the permitting process. If the permitting process is successful, the Pebble Limited Partnership says First Quantum would have the option to buy a 50 percent stake in the project for $1.35 billion. Pascall said that it's a similar figure to Northern Dynasty’s previous agreement with Anglo American, which pulled out of the partnership in 2013.

Pascall emphasized, in a teleconference Monday morning, that the announcement was a framework agreement, and not the finalized option agreement, which would still allow the company to walk away from the project if permitting is unsuccessful.

Mike Heatwole, with the Pebble Limited Partnership, says the company expects to apply for wetlands permits through the Army Corps of Engineers by the end of the year. He says this will be the first time the mine’s plans will be brought to the point of a permitting process.

This year, the Pebble Partnership reached a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency to have the agency withdraw its proposed determination that Heatwole says would have put restrictions on the project before it even began its permitting process.

Heatwole says that settlement has allowed the company to recruit partners, so that it can move forward with applying permits this year. Pascall, with First Quantum, said that was a big factor in being able to move the project forward toward permitting.

The United Tribes of Bristol Bay issued a statement Monday saying, "Bristol Bay businesses, anglers, commercial fishermen, native corporations, tribes and residents remain uniformly opposed to the Pebble Mine."

The group said this past summer’s record-breaking sockeye salmon run – there’s another bumper season forecast for the summer of 2018 – is all the more reason to keep Bristol Bay’s water pristine.

"Bristol Bay’s record-breaking salmon run this summer is a testament to the health and bounty of this world-class fishery. Even after one hundred years, this commercial fishery is the economic backbone of the region and a literal 'food-factory' for the world. And it will continue to provide for generations to come, so long as it is protected. First Quantum Minerals is wasting their time investing in a project that has little to no local support and no legitimate claim to economic feasibility. At the end of the day, the Pebble Mine threatens our fishery and all it supports, and that is just a risk Bristol Bay is not willing to take," said Norm Van Vactor, the CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

Pascall, with First Quantum, said he believes the mine and the fishery could co-exist.

"We have every confidence that Pebble can be developed safely, and in a manner that protects and coexists with the important fishery resources," Pascall said.

The partnership released a smaller plan for the mine, earlier this year.

Despite the newly revised plan, opposition at a recent town hall meeting spoke out against the new plan, saying it will inevitably create environmental issues.

Heatwole says once the permits are applied for, the National Environmental Policy Act process of compiling an Environmental Impact Statement would start off, leading to another round of public scoping, public comment on a draft EIS, and then a final Environmental Impact Statement.

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