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US Army Corp of Engineers denies permit for controversial Alaska Pebble copper mine

Anchorage — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit Nov. 25 for a proposed large, controversial copper/gold/molybdenum mine in southwest Alaska after finding that the project plan for the discharge of fill material in wetlands does not meet federal Clean Water Act standards.

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Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Vancouver, B.C.-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., expressed disappointment in the decision and said it would likely file an appeal. Northern Dynasty has been working for almost 20 years on its plan to develop Pebble, a mineral prospect about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. About $800 million has been spent over the years in exploration, environmental and engineering work at Pebble.

"We are obviously dismayed given that the [Army Corps] had published an Environmental Impact Statement in July that clearly stated the project could successfully co-exist with the (regional salmon) fishery and would have provided substantial economic benefit to the communities closest to the deposit," Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively said.

"The Pebble Deposit contains minerals such as copper that are in the national interest as they will be necessary to support the nation's transition to more renewable sources of energy and a lower carbon future. President-elect Biden has stated that increasing domestic copper production will be an important step in meeting these goals," Shively said.

In a statement, Col. Damon Delarosa, the Army Corps of Engineers' Alaska District Commander said: "The decision on the proposed Pebble Project culminates a review process that lasted nearly three years and involved the development of an environmental impact statement. That assessment included an in-depth analysis of project alternatives along with an examination of supplemental technical information provided by cooperating agencies and the public.

"This action is based on all available facts and complies with existing laws and regulations. It reflects a regulatory process that is fair, flexible and balanced."

Pebble was opposed by U.S. conservation groups, as well as Alaska Native tribes and fisheries groups in the Bristol Bay area ,west of the proposed mine. Pebble is located at the headwaters of streams that feed into rivers where salmon spawn, and the fear is that an accidental discharge of waste at the planned large surface mine could damage those streams and the Brisol Bay fishery, one of the world's largest wild salmon fisheries.

Shively said, "One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people living in the area," which is one of the more economically depressed regions of Alaska, despite its summer salmon fishery. "The [environmental impact statement] clearly describes those benefits, and now a politically driven decision has taken away the hope that many had for a better life," Shively said.

"This is also a lost opportunity for the state's future economy — especially at a time when Alaska is seeing record job losses from the impacts associated with Covid," he said.