The Pebble Mine is smaller, won’t use cyanide, will have no waste rock piles, will have super-safe soil liners, and will impact one fewer drainages that flow toward Bristol Bay.
There will be no mine facilities in the upper Talarik drainage, which was an area of concern for the Environmental Protection Agency in years past.
The current plan for the mine itself is 5.4 square miles, with a total footprint of 12.7 miles, which includes mining facilities and all else associated with the project, which is larger than Alaska’s Fort Knox mine but smaller than the proposed Donlin Mine.
The Environmental Protection Agency had projected that the previous plan was over 13 square miles for the mine itself, although no plan had ever been allowed to be submitted by the agency, which took a dim view of any mine in the area.
To compare, the Ted Stevens International Airport is 7.2 square miles.
The Pebble Limited Partnership says the footprint of the plan is very close to the size that EPA has previously said would be acceptable.
In a presentation this morning in Anchorage, company CEO Tom Collier said the tailing dam, which is described by the company as a type of engineered land mass more than an actual dam, is designed to withstand the greatest possible seismicity predicted by science.
Without cyanide for secondary treatment of the ore, this means the company will go after the less expensive gold, and leave the rest in the ground.
The company also has a plan to expand the partnership by sharing revenue with the people who live in the region through a new corporate entity that would be created. Five percent of the profit would go to that entity, which would be owned 50-50 by local Native village corporations and local residents. The new company includes five local village corporations that would receive an estimated $500,000 per year each.
The approximately 5,000 local residents would get a windfall payment of $500 per year, the company estimates, which would supplement any distributions they might receive directly from their regional or village Native corporations.
As an apparent gesture of goodwill, the company is also saying it will help the people of the region buy back salmon driftnet permits, most of which are owned primarily by people and companies outside the state.
Pebble will also perform business mentoring with village corporations to help them compete for construction and operating contracts associated with the mine. The contracts are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the company says.
What the company could not do this week is get Gov. Bill Walker to hold back his advance judgment of the plan before it was even presented in its conceptual state.
Walker went on record with Alaska Public Media earlier this week saying he doesn’t support the Pebble Mine, even though he hadn’t seen the plan yet.
Walker, who once had a “wait-and-see” view on mining in Western Alaska, made a deal with the Alaska Democratic Party to run as a nonpartisan candidate with ADP’s support. In exchange for the party withdrawing its own elected Democratic nominee, Walker had to make promises. One was to oppose the proposed Pebble Mine.
“I am not supportive of the Pebble Mine,” Walker told the reporter this week, prior to the Pebble Partnership plan’s official “reveal,” although PLP reportedly had briefed the governor privately.
Walker said the Pebble Partnership had not yet proven to him that the project would not harm the salmon fishery at Bristol Bay.
“I do not have information sufficient for me to be comfortable or supportive of the Pebble Mine. The burden is on them to prove that it can be done without a risk to the fish in that area. It’s a high burden – it’s the highest burden, and to me, they have not met that yet,” Walker said.
Walker ran on a pro-job platform that included ads of him operating a gravel-loader, such as this one that was released just a couple of days before he created a “Unity” ticket with the Alaska Democratic Party.
Mike Heatwole, spokesman for Pebble, said that “high burden” is what the permitting process is for: “The governor is correct that the burden is on us to demonstrate we will not impact the fish resource in the region. While we believe our plan meets this hurdle, the next step is to have our plan thoroughly and objectively evaluated via the permitting process to determine if we meet the high standards Alaskans expect for development.”
Tom Collier, the CEO, echoed Heatwole’s comments in response to a question at a Fairbanks forum later that day.
In May, the EPA reached a legal settlement with the Pebble Partnership, after the Obama Administration had scuttled the project before the company had even had a chance to present it for permitting.
Under the Trump Administration, Pebble is being allowed to undergo the rigorous federal environmental review process. But the company must also get state permits before it can begin construction.
With Walker prejudging the project, is there space for him get behind it in the end if it does indeed meet his “high burden” of proof?