Critics call Pebble’s concept an investment ploy, not a real plan

(KDLG photo)

Pebble’s critics are not showing an interest in the company’s new concept to mine the copper and gold deposit northwest of Iliamna. The United Tribes of Bristol Bay has called the plan a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” another attempt at bribery, and the “latest in a long list of lies.” Another longtime opponent sees this week’s news as more an investment ploy than serious attempt to put a mine into permitting.

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Rick Halford is a Republican former state senate president, and these days spends a lot of his time working to protect the PFD. But he has also been one of Pebble’s staunchest opponents, and has worked closely with Trout Limited, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and others to block this and any mine from being developed in the Bristol Bay watershed. He spent some time looking at the new concept Pebble put out Thursday.

“My first question is, how are they going to, before the end of this year, actually apply for a permit?” Halford said. “That’s the core promise that was announced. There’s a lot of slides, and a lot of promises, but that’s not a plan.”

Halford said this is certainly more interesting than some “back of the pizza box plans” from the past, but he’s still skeptical the company is even serious about taking the project through. He thinks this conceptual rollout is aimed investors, not regulators.

“I mean that’s their real experience is more mining in the stock market than mining in the ground,” Halford said. “The big mining interests have walked away from the project at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars. So they’re looking for another large mining interest, and anything they can do to make the project look viable is to their advantage.”

Halford is also suspicious that the public is seeing the same presentation that investors are looking at, especially after Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ron Thiessen was quoted in Denver recently talking about a project that will last for many generations, not just the 20-year project Pebble said it will take into permitting.

“It’s very difficult to see how you could ever enforce a small mine limitation,” Thiessen said. “You have a combination of multi-national interests that it would take to develop it, and it’s not going to be ‘we’re going to do this partly.’ Once you start, you have opened and empowered a mining district with infrastructure, and it’s going to go as far as they can find resources.”

Pebble agrees that an increase in the size or scope of mining at the deposit is certainly possible after the first mine, but says that all new efforts will require separate and extensive permitting. There’s no illusion by anybody that there is a lot of copper and gold northwest of Iliamna, and several companies – Pebble included – are interested in going after those minerals eventually.

Halford said some of Pebble’s new concepts did move in the right direction, but he’s also very skeptical about some of the company’s claims.

“One of those being that you can somehow separate the impact on the Nushagak drainage and the Kvichak drainage, when in fact the project sits in a saddle that straddles both of them, and it’s pretty hard to separate when you have subsurface exchange between drainages,” Halford said.

The ball is in Pebble’s court to put an actual plan together and file a permit application, said Halford, something he doesn’t think may ever happen, let alone by December.

Of the opposition and its plans, Halford said they are growing and their mission is clear. He was heartened to see Governor Bill Walker come out as “unconvinced” and “not supportive” of Pebble on Wednesday.