Mining

Walker asks Corps to suspend Pebble permitting

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend its environmental review of a proposed copper-and-gold mine near a major salmon fishery, saying he questions whether the project is ready to move forward. Walker's letter to the corps, also signed by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, said the group seeking to develop the mine, the Pebble Limited Partnership, has yet to show that it has proposed a "feasible and realistic project." Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble partnership, called the request a stall tactic that he would expect from anti-development groups but not from the governor. Walker fails to make a compelling case for halting the current process, he said. "It is this type of behavior that makes many in the global investment community reluctant to invest in Alaska," Collier said in a statement. The project, located in Alaska's Bristol Bay region, has been the subject of heated debate for years. Bristol Bay produces about half of the world's sockeye salmon. The Pebble partnership in December applied for a permit with the corps. The corps recently concluded a comment period that allowed people to share their views, cite any concerns and offer suggestions on the scope of the review. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources submitted comments Friday, which is also when Walker and Mallott submitted their letter. Critics have complained about the corps' process; Chip Treinen, with Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, said in a recent statement that the corps is fast-tracking Pebble's permit application and worried the process was tilted in Pebble's favor. The corps had not yet responded to Walker's request. Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesman, said Pebble believes its project is technically, environmentally and economically feasible. Review processes like the corps' will look at whether Pebble's assumptions, particularly on technical and environmental issues, are correct, he said Monday. Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which owns the Pebble partnership, has been looking for a partner since Anglo American PLC announced it was pulling out in 2013. Canada-based First Quantum Minerals Ltd., courted as a potential investor, backed away from the project in May, though offered no public comment at the time as to why. Heatwole said there has been "active interest" as Pebble seeks a new partner. "And when we have something to share I certainly look forward to doing that," he said.  

Pruitt calls for curbs on Clean Water Act vetoes

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a memo June 26 directing staff to write regulations aimed at limiting the agency’s ability to block development projects that impact wetlands. Pruitt’s goal is to stop the agency from using its historically broad authority to overrule U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decisions regarding Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permits before a permit application is filed or after a permit is issued and a project is underway. The Corps of Engineers reviews wetlands fill permit applications on behalf of the EPA, but the Clean Water Act gives the EPA the power to overrule a Corps decision if agency officials determine a project would have unacceptable impacts on wetlands areas or other water bodies, which Pruitt cited in the document. The decision has nationwide consequences, but the Pruitt noted in the memo that the move largely stems from the EPA’s actions under the Obama administration’s attempt in 2014 to block the hotly contested Pebble mine project in the Bristol Bay region before the Pebble Partnership had applied for its Section 404 permit. Pebble submitted its 404 application to the Corps last December, which triggered an environmental impact statement review given the large scope of the proposed mine and ancillary facilities. “Today’s memo refocuses EPA on its core mission of protecting public health and the environment in a way that is fair and consistent with due process. We must ensure that EPA exercises its authority under the Clean Water Act in a careful, predictable, and prudent manner,” Pruitt said in an EPA release. The four-page edict, specifically directed at the agency’s Office of Water, further requires regional administrators to ask EPA headquarters officials for permission to initiate an action to restrict a development at the end of the environmental review process. Subsection 404(c) of the Clean Water Act outlines the EPA’s authority to issue such project “vetoes.” Pruitt wrote that he wants the regulations drafted within six months. The EPA has not often invoked its Section 404(c) authority — using it 13 times since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. However, Pruitt notes in the memo that regulations guiding how the agency implements its 404(c) power haven’t been updated since 1979 and a “long-overdue” update will provide certainty to landowners, businesses and investors hoping to advance development projects. “I am concerned that the mere potential of the EPA’s use of its Section 404(c) authority before or after the permitting process could influence investment decisions and chill economic growth by short-circuiting the permitting process,” he wrote. The possibility of EPA using its 404(c) veto authority was behind a 2010 decision by the Corps to initially deny ConocoPhillips a permit to build a bridge over the Colville River to reach its CD-5 development; the EPA favored an underground pipeline and no bridge. ConocoPhillips appealed that Corps decision and it was reversed to allow construction of the bridge to begin in 2013, which prompted a lawsuit by environmental groups and a few villagers from nearby Nuiqsut. The Corps decision to allow the bridge was ultimately upheld and CD-5 has been producing since 2015. Pebble sued the EPA twice in 2014, first contending the agency overstepped its authority by moving towards, but not finishing, a Section 404(c) veto before the company had applied for its permits. That suit was thrown out by federal Alaska District Court Judge H. Russel Holland because the action had not been finalized and therefore the issue was not ripe for adjudication. Another suit argued the agency had colluded with anti-mine activists in reaching what Pebble claims was a predetermined conclusion that the mine would be an irresponsible development amongst salmon habitat. Holland issued an injunction in that case, halting the EPA from further steps to preemptively stop Pebble, and that suit was ultimately settled out of court in May 2017. The settlement allowed Pebble to apply for its 404 permit with parameters on when the EPA could revisit a Pebble veto in the future. Pruitt’s push to end preemptive and retroactive 404(c) actions is seemingly at odds with his January decision to stop short of withdrawing the Obama-era proposed restrictions on Pebble. The aforementioned EPA-Pebble settlement called for the agency to start the process of withdrawing the proposed mining restriction, but did not require it to be finalized. An agency statement at the time said the EPA has “serious concerns” about the impacts of mining activity in the Bristol Bay watershed and public comments in stakeholder meetings stressed the importance of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery. Additionally, Pruitt said his decision would not derail Pebble’s ongoing permit review. However, he wrote in the June 26 memo that the Corps can process permit applications and conduct an EIS while a 404(c) action is ongoing, but the Corps cannot issue a permit with an outstanding 404(c) proposal. A spokeswoman for the EPA’s headquarters office did not respond to emailed questions in time for this story. Conservation and Bristol Bay-area fishing and Native groups commended Pruitt in January but hammered his latest memo. “Earlier this year Administrator Pruitt made a very strong statement regarding his concerns about the large, adverse impacts of the Pebble mine,” Trout Unlimited Government Affairs Vice President Steve Moyer said in a prepared statement June 27. “His concerns make our point. Some projects are so destructive of irreplaceable resources that they should be nipped in the bud. We urge Administrator Pruitt and the EPA to reconsider the position stated in the memo and instead, look for ways to protect aquatic treasures and fulfill the promises of the Clean Water Act.” On May 3, 18 members of the Republican-heavy Congressional Western Caucus and resource development advocates sent a letter to Pruitt urging him to lift the proposed restrictions on Pebble. The letter noted Pruitt’s history as an advocate for economic and resource development, but asked “that the proposed (veto) determination be withdrawn, as was originally planned.” It also contends that the decision is at odds with the administration’s position of making mineral development a top priority. Rep. Don Young, a member of the Western Caucus leadership group and a critic of the EPA’s attempt to stop Pebble before the permits were applied for, did not sign the letter. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Interior gold mine gets new life, $100M expansion

It appears one of Alaska’s largest mines is going to get a little bigger and stay open a little longer. Kinross Gold Corp. announced June 12 that it has decided to move forward with a $100 million expansion to the Fort Knox gold mine about 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Fort Knox is on land owned by the state Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; the expansion, known as the Gilmore project, is on a recently acquired 709-acre parcel of state land just to the west of the existing mine pit that was previously held by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A feasibility the Toronto-based Kinross conducted on the prospect indicates the Gilmore project could yield 1.5 million ounces of gold and initially extend operations at Fort Knox to 2030. Milling at the mine is expected to stop in late 2020 without it, according to Kinross. Now, mining is expected to continue into 2027 with ore processing running to 2030. The mine opened in 1996. The prospect also increased the proven and probable gold reserves at Fort Knox by 2.1 million ounces to 3.4 million ounces overall, Kinross notes further. CEO J. Paul Robinson said the company will likely be able to fund the $100 million expansion with Fort Knox’s existing cash flow, which will help Kinross maintain financial flexibility. “With additional upside potential at Gilmore and beyond, Fort Knox is a significant asset in our portfolio located in an excellent mining jurisdiction,” Robinson said in a Kinross release. “The Gilmore project and the addition of estimated mineral resources improves value and is expected to be a key contributor to the future growth of our company.” Kinross operates eight mines across North and South America, West Africa and Russia. Gov. Bill Walker and Fairbanks-area legislators rejoiced at the news that Fort Knox, which currently employs about 630 people, will probably stay open longer. The mine is also the largest property tax payer in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, according to the governor’s office. “We are excited to see the Fort Knox mine plan, an extension onto newly state-owned land, potentially extending the life of the mine to 2030,” Walker said in a formal statement. “This is a significant development for Alaska’s economy, and was made possible by our administration, federal agencies and our congressional delegation cooperating to transfer these lands from federal ownership to State of Alaska ownership.” Kinross estimates the Gilmore project will generate a 17 percent internal rate of return with a net present value of $130 million and cash flow of $240 million, assuming an average gold price of $1,200 per ounce. At prices averaging $1,300 per ounce, those projections jump to a 26 percent return and a net present value of $239 million. Spot prices for gold are currently about $1,280 per ounce. The company has pegged the all-in operating cost of Gilmore at $950 per ounce. Combined with current operations, Fort Knox’s overall production cost from 2018-2030 is expected to be $1,005 per ounce with annual production averaging 205,000 ounces of gold. Early construction is expected to start in the third quarter of this year, with mining work starting next year and gold production from Gilmore being realized in early 2020.   Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pebble files revisions to mining plan

Pebble Limited Partnership has made changes to its mine plan that would slow its mining rate but increase its ore processing while potentially lessening the project’s environmental impact, according to a document filed with the Corps of Engineers May 11. The Corps published the five-page overview of the plan changes on the project EIS website May 21. The revisions would cut the peak mining rate from 90 million tons of ore per year to 75 million tons; at the same time the milling rate would grow from 160,000 tons per day in the original plan submitted to the Corps to 180,000 tons per day. Pebble had planned to stockpile up to 330 million tons of low-grade ore mined during the first 14 years for processing in the latter years of the initial 20-year mine. The mining-milling adjustments mean the project would now mine roughly 1.5 billion tons of material — with about 200 million tons of that being waste rock — up from the original plan of 1.2 billion tons. From that, annual production should increase by about 10 percent to 660,000 tons of copper-gold concentrate and 16,500 tons of molybdenum concentrate. Mining more material means the pit dimensions “will increase slightly” from the 6,500 feet long; 5,500 feet wide and up to 1,750 feet deep mine contemplated in the plan submitted in December, according to the five-page summary of the changes. The specific changes to the pit dimensions are not detailed. The onsite power plant will also need to grow from 230 megawatts to 270 megawatts of capacity to accommodate the increased mill throughput, according to Pebble. By not storing the potential acid-generating low-grade ore Pebble will not have to treat runoff water from the stockpile, the document notes. Further changes are also being made to the tailings storage facility. Originally, Pebble designed a single storage facility with two segments, one for bulk tailings and another to hold pyritic tailings. The updated plan includes separating the bulk and pyritic storage areas and moving the bulk tailings storage about 2,000 feet south to incorporate more of the existing terrain into the tailings dam construction, according to Pebble. Oxidization of pyritic tailings can lead to acid rock drainage depending on the amount of sulphur in the tailings. A new, lined pyritic tailings storage facility located closer to the pit will also house potentially acid-generating mine waste during operations. That waste will then be moved into the pit when the mine is closed, allowing the harmful waste to be permanently stored under water and below ground level. The tailings storage changes also eliminates the need for perpetual water treatment of the pyritic tailings and storing the material below-ground also removes all risk of downstream impacts related to a pyritic tailings storage facility failure, Pebble notes. The original plan for two water management ponds has also been changed to a single, much larger lined pond built using rock fill similar to how the tailings storage dams will be built. Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole wrote via email that the changes were made to enhance the overall project and make environmental improvements to the plan. Milling the low-grade ore throughout the project versus waiting until the end makes for a more efficient mining process, while the other adjustments will help during mine closure, according to Heatwole. He said Pebble couldn’t discuss how the changes impact the project’s economics until the company publishes its preliminary economic assessment, which is expected later this year. Heatwole added that the project’s wetlands impact — pegged at 3,190 acres in the original submittal — has not been fully quantified but Pebble doesn’t expect it to change significantly. Corps of Engineers Project Manager Shane McCoy said as of May 24 Pebble had not submitted engineering designs of the proposed changes, but agency officials expected to get more detailed documents on the new plans soon. “Everything that they have proposed to date is a reduction in the proposed impacts to aquatic resources or navigable waters, so the Corps does not believe these are major changes other than the fact that it’s a reduction in scope,” McCoy said. Finally, Pebble has concluded after further study of its shipping plan that it no longer needs a deepwater port. The company is now proposing to shuttle concentrate containers with barges from the Amakdedori port site to bulk freighter vessels that could moor at two locations 12 and 18 miles offshore from west Cook Inlet port. Consumable materials and fuel would go directly to the port on barges without being lightered, according to Pebble. Cargo is lightered to reduce a vessel’s draft, making the individual portions of the overall bulk shipment lighter to allow for travel in shallower water. Keeping the bulk freighters offshore will end the need for channel dredging and storing up to 20 million cubic yards of dredged material at the port. Pebble is also evaluating the possibility of a “high-tide only” access port to further reduce dredging requirements, according to the outline document. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pebble owner loses potential major investor

The company spearheading the Pebble mine is again long on mineral prospects but short on cash after another major potential funder turned away from the project, according to a release from Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, the sole parent company to Pebble Limited Partnership, issued a statement early May 25 acknowledging that its framework investment agreement with First Quantum Minerals has been terminated. In December, the two Canadian mining firms announced they had reached an option agreement under which First Quantum made an initial $37.5 million payment to Northern Dynasty with plans to make three more similar payments totaling $150 million over four years. At the end of that period First Quantum would’ve had the option to buy a 50 percent stake in Pebble Limited Partnership for $1.35 billion. First Quantum operates six primarily copper, gold and zinc mines worldwide. The pre-development Pebble prospect is Northern Dynasty’s sole project. The initial $150 million was intended to fund the permitting process for Pebble, while the subsequent major investment would have helped develop the mine and its extensive support infrastructure. First Quantum was originally supposed to decide whether or not it would invest in Pebble beyond the $37.5 million payment by April 6, according to the framework agreement. The companies first pushed that deadline back to April 30 and later to May 31. Groups opposing Pebble quickly began pressuring funds with investments in First Quantum to divest their interests in the company if it were to get involved in the Pebble project long-term. Those same groups were able to spend Memorial Day weekend celebrating Northern Dynasty’s announcement. “Today is a victory for Bristol Bay’s tribes,” United Tribes of Bristol Bay President Robert Heyano said in a prepared statement. “Our voices are being heard everywhere from our villages to the boardroom at First Quantum. Quyana (thank you) to First Quantum for listening to reason and divesting from this toxic project. No project is worth more than a culture or a way of life. It’s fitting that this announcement comes right on the cusp of fishing season, where Bristol Bay will once again harvest millions of salmon for the world.” Pebble Partnership leaders have long acknowledged they need to secure another major investor partner before the mine can be built, so what the revelation means for the future of Pebble and Northern Dynasty is unclear. Pebble CEO Tom Collier downplayed the significance of failing to reach an agreement with First Quantum in a formal statement following the Northern Dynasty announcement. Collier said he is continuing on with “business as usual” because he is confident the junior mining company will secure the funding it needs to complete the project’s environmental impact statement. “Pebble remains one of the nation’s most important undeveloped mineral resources. It is on state land and is an important economic asset for Alaska,” he said. “Our project is well defined and we are going to continue communicating with Alaskans about why we believe in the opportunity it represents.” A spokesperson for First Quantum could not be reached for comment. Northern Dynasty held $27.9 million Canadian, or roughly $21 million U.S., in cash on March 31, according to its first quarter financial report issued May 15. At the same time, it had also accrued $13.5 million Canadian in near-term liabilities and total liabilities of $68.7 million Canadian. Northern Dynasty stock closed trading May 25 on domestic markets at 47 cents per share, down 33 percent from its prior closing price of 70 cents per share. The company is also traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. London-based mining major Anglo American withdrew from Pebble in 2013 after spending more than $540 million exploring the copper and gold deposit. In 2014, fellow British mining firm Rio Tinto donated its 19 percent ownership in Northern Dynasty to the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation. Bristol Bay Native Corp. has helped lead the fight against Pebble. BBNC President Jason Metrokin said First Quantum “ultimately came to the right conclusion about the Pebble project”. “I commend First Quantum for exiting the Pebble project,” Metrokin added. “As we have said repeatedly since formally opposing the proposed mine nine years ago, Pebble mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The people of Bristol bay and the majority of Alaskans will not trade salmon for gold.” In early April, a group of 50 conservation and outdoor recreation companies and organizations sent a joint letter to First Quantum leaders imploring them to stay out of the Pebble project. Further, a group of Alaska Native leaders from the Bristol Bay-area traveled to First Quantum’s May 3 shareholder meeting in Toronto to deliver a similar message. California Treasurer John Chiang, a trustee to the state’s $360 billion-plus Public Employees’ and Teachers’ Retirement systems, sent a letter to First Quantum leaders Jan. 29 urging them to stay out of the Pebble project because CalPERS officials believe sustainable business practices are fundamental to long-term value growth for shareholders. According to Chiang, the Pebble project would risk the sustainability of fisheries in the Bristol Bay region as well as the fund’s investment in First Quantum. At the time, CalPERS held 4.3 million shares of First Quantum amounting to 0.62 percent of outstanding stock in the company as well as bonds in First Quantum with a maturity value of $2.3 million. Additionally, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, generally seen as a bane to conservation advocates, issued a surprising statement Jan. 26 expressing his “serious concerns” about the impacts of mining activity in the Bristol Bay watershed. As a result, Pruitt said the EPA would not finalize its proposed withdrawal of the 2014 proposed determination to prohibit a large mine in the Bristol Bay region through its Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority. Pruitt stressed that his decision would not impact Pebble’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, but it kept a cloud of uncertainty over the project that Pruitt was expected to remove. Pebble Limited Partnership filed its wetlands fill permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dec. 22. The initial application outlined plans to fill 3,190 acres of wetlands at the mine site. While not specific to any mine plan — a point Pebble and parent company Northern Dynasty minerals have stressed — the Bristol Bay Watershed assessment published by EPA in 2014 concluded a mine that would fill more than about 1,100 acres would be too damaging to fish habitat to allow. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans deserve process, not knee-jerk opposition, to Ambler Road

A recent House Resources committee hearing on the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project served as a reminder how prevalent a role outside environmental groups play in Alaska politics, particularly when it comes to mining projects. Perhaps nowhere else in America do environmental groups spend as much time, money and effort to insert a voice into how — or even if — we manage our own resources. Knee-jerk opposition to resource development often ignores the needs and best interests of Alaskans. It also discounts that these projects, in this case a potential road leading to a mining district in Northwest Alaska, make huge regional economic contributions to fund education, healthcare, and opportunity for future generations of our state. The Red Dog Mine, one of the largest lead and zinc mines in the world, has been in operation since the 1980s. It’s the only non-government tax contributor to the Northwest Arctic Borough and plays a critical role in supporting important services, especially schools. Since mining began at Red Dog over 25 years ago, more than $140 million has been provided to the borough. During that same period, over $880 million has been provided to the state and over $695 million to the federal government. Seven hundred-fifty Northwest Arctic Borough jobs are connected to Red Dog; accounting for roughly $75 million in annual wages. In addition, over $160 million is spent annually on goods and services from Alaska-based businesses. The economic and social benefits that the Red Dog Mine has brought to the region go on and on. Roughly 150 miles to the east of Red Dog is the mineral rich Ambler Mining District. The topic of recent legislative hearings was the feasibility of an access road being pursued by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. The road project is important because it would allow responsible development of mineral resources used in everything from solar panels to windmills and electric cars. The Ambler Access Project road alone would create hundreds of local jobs during the construction phase. Once built, providing industrial-only access to known mineral deposits, mining development could account for thousands of direct jobs during mine construction and operations. The benefit to the region would be a multiple of the long-term positive benefits the Red Dog Mine has brought. Despite the significant employment and economic benefit potential the project represents, the House Resources hearing included testimony from naysayers, arguing about the economics of the advanced-stage exploration project and challenging the return on investment of a proposed private toll road paid for with other people’s money. The Wilderness Society representatives, while generally stating support for the access road itself, had a lengthy presentation disagreeing with the economic model presented by AIDEA. AIDEA still has a lot of work to do, and they have detailed the rigorous process necessary to finalize a financing package for private investors interested in purchasing bonds to build the access road. Similarly, Trilogy Metals just finished a pre-feasibility-level study that demonstrates robust project economics, and as the Wilderness Society testified, more drilling work is needed at the potential mining projects. That work will continue this summer with recent news that the mining companies pursuing these opportunities have the funds in hand to do that. AIDEA and its proposed Ambler Access Project are going through the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process to complete scoping requirements for an environmental impact statement, or EIS. This includes comments from the public relative to concerns and issues that must be addressed in the permitting process. This is followed by a draft EIS; another public comment period; a final EIS; a third public comment period; and then ultimately a record of decision. Nothing can be built before then. The NEPA process is incredibly rigorous, incorporating local input into project design and decision making, and has always resulted in a better project. At the end of the day, Alaskans should support this process to ensure that — once all the facts are made available — those who stand to be most affected by the road have a say in how it’s designed and developed. Nobody is building a road or a mine at this point, and none of the numbers are final, but Alaskans, especially residents of the region, deserve this process to play out. They deserve to hear all ideas, concerns and options for the road moving forward. What they don’t deserve is to have another resource project shut down by outside special interest groups before all the facts are available and the permitting process complete. John MacKinnon is the Executive Director of AGC of Alaska, a construction trade association representing over 640 companies in Alaska. Jim St. George is the President of AGC of Alaska. He is founder of STG Incorporated, an Anchorage-based construction management and services company specializing in heavy industrial construction projects in rural Alaska.

Final environmental review released for Donlin, but without preferred alternative

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska published a final environmental impact statement for the Donlin Gold mine Friday, but what regulators think of the complex development plan is still unclear. Donlin Gold’s proposal is for a large open-pit mine near Crooked Creek in the upper Kuskokwim River drainage. The mine would extract roughly 33 million ounces of gold over its initial 27-year life. Substantial support infrastructure for the mine would also be built, including a 315-mile natural gas pipeline from near Beluga on the west side of Cook Inlet to the mine site to provide a fuel supply for the 227-megawatt power plant at the mine site. Donlin’s plan also calls for a 30-mile access road from the Kuskokwim to the mine as well as expanding the Bethel barge dock and constructing additional fuel terminals in Dutch Harbor. Donlin Gold estimates the mine and associated infrastructure that includes a natural gas pipeline from west Cook Inlet and fuel storage all the way in Dutch Harbor, will cost $6.7 billion based on its plan from a 2011 feasibility study. Corps of Engineers Alaska District regulatory officials wrote in an email that the agency is still working through the Clean Water Act Section 404 analyses and will identify the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative through the culmination of the EIS process. The agency is expected to select its preferred alternative plan and issue the subsequent record of decision for the Donlin Gold mine sometime this summer. The alternatives identified by the Corps for the project outline the prospect of diesel fuel pipeline that could parallel the gasline to drastically reduce the need to barge additional diesel up the Kuskokwim, thereby cutting the risk of a fuel spill related to the mine. The longer diesel pipeline would likely start at either Port MacKenzie in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or at the Village of Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet and then link up with the gasline. Another option to reduce diesel shipments that is considered in the final environmental impact statement, or EIS, is to mandate Donlin employ LNG-fueled haul trucks at the mine. The EIS also contemplates a dry stack tailings facility instead of the more traditional tailings pond and dam. Using the dry stack method would avoid a potential tailings waste release from behind the dam, but also require a filter plant that would produce a partially saturated “compactable filter cake,” according to the EIS, that would trucked to the storage facility and then be spread and compacted by bulldozers. Donlin is proposing a 2,300-acre fully lined wet tailings storage facility. The mine site is on lands owned by The Kuskokwim Corp. and Calista Corp., the area village and regional Native corporations, respectively. Donlin spokesman Kurt Parkan said in addition to the record of decision the company still has to secure numerous other state and federal permits, among them approvals for water discharge, waste management and a tailings dam safety permit that will eventually require additional geotechnical drilling. After the permits are secured company leaders will reevaluate the project’s economics, which they acknowledge are subject to the volatility of gold prices, and begin the search for financing if the project pencils out. Donlin Gold leaders acknowledge the project is more sensitive to gold prices than even other Alaska prospects simply because of its associated infrastructure costs. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Long-awaited final EIS for Donlin nears release

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will publish its recommendations for the large Donlin Gold mine project in Western Alaska next Friday, April 27, Alaska District officials said Thursday. The Corps of Engineers has been working on the environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the open-pit gold mine proposal in the upper Kuskowkim River drainage since December 2012. A schedule for the EIS on the agency’s website for the project states the Corps hoped to have the final version of the massive environmental review document published sometime in March. Donlin spokesman Kurt Parkan said the company has been working on the mine for 22 years since initial exploration work began. “It’s a good day. We’re happy that we’ve reached (the final EIS). That’s a big milestone,” Parkan said in a brief interview. Corps of Engineers Alaska District officials who oversaw the drafting of the Donlin EIS held a media availability and a scoping meeting in Anchorage at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center on Thursday to solicit comments on the EIS for the Pebble gold and copper mine. Unlike a draft EIS — Donlin’s draft was published in November 2015 — a final EIS includes the oversight agency’s recommendations on how a project can be adjusted to minimize its environmental impacts. A “no action alternative,” or a recommendation to not approve the project, can also be selected. Donlin Gold estimates the mine and associated infrastructure that includes a natural gas pipeline from west Cook Inlet and fuel storage all the way in Dutch Harbor, will cost $6.7 billion based on its plan from a 2011 feasibility study. Parkan said the next steps will be getting a record of decision from the Corps later this year as well as securing numerous other permits, among them approvals for water discharge, waste management and a tailings dam safety permit that will evenually require additional geotechnical drilling. After the permits are secured company leaders will reevaluate the project’s economics, which they acknowledge are subject to the volatility of gold prices, and begin the search for financing if the project pencils out. “That is the plan and we’re working on ways to reduce the capital cost,” Parkan added. A true mega-project, Donlin Gold’s is for a conventional open-pit mine 1.5 miles across and up to 1,200 feet deep about 10 miles north of the village of Crooked Creek in the Upper Kuskokwim River drainage. A tailings facility, large power plant, workers’ camp and 5,000-foot airstrip would accompany the mine. As planned by Donlin, a joint venture between Barrick Gold Corp. and NovaGold Resources Inc., the mine would produce about 1.1 million ounces of gold per year over a 27-year mine life for a total of about 33 million ounces of the precious metal, making it one of the largest open-pit gold mines on Earth. The mine site, on lands owned by The Kuskokwim Corp. and Calista Corp., the area village and regional Native corporations, respectively, would also include a fully lined, 2,300-acre tailings facility to store the processed ore. Support infrastructure would include a 315-mile, 14-inch diameter natural gas pipeline originating on the west side of Cook Inlet needed to supply fuel to the 227-megawatt capacity power plant at the mine site. The pipeline has also been viewed as a first, indirect step to getting lower cost natural gas to numerous villages in Western Alaska that currently rely on fuel oil their primary heat and electricity sources. A 30-mile road would connect the mine to a new barge port on the Kuskokwim. Further down the Kuskokwim, port cargo facilities would be expanded in Bethel, and new diesel storage tanks would be needed Dutch Harbor to supply fuel for equipment at the mine. In all, the direct supply chain in Donlin’s proposal from Cook Inlet to Dutch Harbor would cover approximately 1,050 miles. Donlin Gold leaders acknowledge the project is more sensitive to gold prices than even other Alaska prospects simply because of its associated infrastructure costs. Company officials have said the project would not be economic at gold prices of about $1,100 per ounce. Gold was selling for about $1,355 per ounce in spot trading on Thursday. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Latest fish habitat bill goes too far, or not far enough

A new version of legislation to revamp Alaska’s salmon habitat permitting system is aimed at increasing public involvement and the ability of regulators to impose penalties for noncompliance. The bill’s author, Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, said the second iteration of House Bill 199 is the result of months of talks with stakeholders and what she believes to be an effective balance of fish protections while still allowing responsible development projects to go forward. “I believe this draft is more in line with the request by the Board of Fish. It is a much-needed improvement to Title 16 that focuses on public notice, public comment and the ability for the public to affect the process, criteria for the proper protection of fish and providing the Department of Fish and Game with more enforcement tools,” Stutes said during a hearing of the House Fisheries Committee, which she chairs. She added that she’s confident the provisions in the new HB 199 will be workable for development industries and good news for fish advocates. The Alaska Board of Fisheries, which regulates the gamut of fishing activities in the state, wrote a letter to legislative leaders in January 2017 urging them to update the state’s anadromous fish habitat permitting law, known as Title 16, to include more opportunities for public involvement and enforceable standards to the current law that many feel is outdated and too vague. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game,” leaving the definition of what is acceptable up to interpretation. The original version of the bill released about a year ago would have set stringent requirements in law on construction in and around salmon habitat. Specifically, it required habitat degradation mitigation measures to be applied to the water impacted, eliminating the possibility of using habitat improvements to nearby waters as a reasonable offset to expected damages. According to Fish and Game Habitat Division officials, such off-site mitigation is one of the last options for a project proponent when damage to habitat cannot be avoided, but it is a fairly common practice for very large projects, such as mines, that cannot be moved or effectively scaled to avoid impacting salmon habitat. The old bill also would have presumed that all waters connected to the ocean are anadromous fish habitat and put the onus to prove otherwise on project proponents. The original HB 199 largely mirrored the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative, which has drawn the opposition of oil and gas, mining, logging and construction trade groups as well as most Alaska Native corporations for being a de-facto prohibition on new development in Alaska, they contend. Gov. Bill Walker also opposes the Stand for Salmon initiative, saying it is too restrictive and major policy changes should be thoroughly vetted through the legislative process rather than being subject to a simple up or down referendum vote with no opportunity for adjustments. The Stand for Salmon initiative was certified with 41,999 supporting signatures by the Division of Elections to appear on the 2018 ballot March 15, but it still faces a Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality. The state Supreme Court will hear the Stand for Salmon case April 26. The state is appealing a Superior Court ruling from last fall that overturned the decision of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott that the initiative is unconstitutional. The initiative sponsors have said they too would prefer to make changes to Title 16 via the Legislature, but they continue to push the ballot measure to assure action is taken if the Legislature fails to pass the bill. Passing some version of HB 199 would likely render Stand for Salmon moot, as legislative law changes deemed similar to the intent of a voter initiative would preempt the initiative. However, given the late timing of the new bill in a Legislature wholly preoccupied with resolving the state’s ongoing multibillion-dollar budget deficits, it appears HB 199 will be challenged to move through several more House and Senate committees to be passed in the waning days of the current session. House Majority coalition leaders have said they expect the salmon habitat discussion to be a long process. The bill would have to start from scratch in the new Legislature next year, but that would not be a major change from its current status given HB 199 is still in House Fisheries, its first committee of referral. Stutes pulled those major mitigation and anadromous fish habitat presumption policy changes from HB 199, but the bill would still establish minor and major tiers for habitat permits, a primary provision of the first version. The Fish and Game commissioner would have the ability to issue blanket minor permits for common activities such as crossing streams with an ATV. General permits for such activities would be renewed every five years. Major permits would require publication of both a draft and final version of salmon habitat impact assessments. Public notice and comment periods would be required for the issuance of a minor permit and when draft and final assessments are published. There are currently no public notice requirements for anadromous fish habitat permits, which proponents contend is insufficient given salmon are a valuable and public resource. HB 199 would also require project proponents post bonds sufficient to restore habitat if permit conditions are not adhered to. The other major change from current law in HB 199 is a provision giving designated Fish and Game officials authority to issue on-the-spot citations or tickets for disturbing salmon habitat without a permit or not complying with an issued habitat permit. Currently, all salmon habitat violations are Class A misdemeanor offenses that require a court appearance and Alaska State Troopers act as Fish and Game’s enforcement arm. Habitat Division Coordinator and fisheries biologist Ron Benkert, who has testified extensively to House Fisheries on the issue, said in March interview with the Journal that the current enforcement system is good in theory, but it requires substantial time from often overworked prosecutors and busy judges must be willing to hear the cases. The process lends itself to very few salmon habitat violations being prosecuted, according to Benkert. Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, suggested giving Department of Natural Resource officials similar enforcement authority for the many land use and resource activity-related permits DNR issues. Rounds of public testimony April 7 and April 9 on HB 199 elicited far more support than opposition, though numerous testifiers’ comments seemed to relate to the original version of the bill. Alaska Support Industry Alliance CEO Rebecca Logan said HB 199 does not achieve the stated goals of protecting salmon habitat while correspondingly allowing for development. “At a time when we have the highest unemployment in the nation and have lost thousands of the best jobs we have in the state — to insert uncertainty into the permitting process leads to delay and delay leads to no jobs and for those reasons and many more the Alliance is opposed to HB 199,” Logan said. Americans for Prosperity Alaska Director Jeremy Price called it “a regulatory nightmare,” in his testimony. “It only adds to the cost of a project.” Stand for Salmon Director Ryan Schryver thanked Stutes for her work on Title 16, but said the new HB 199 doesn’t go far enough to guard anadromous habitat, as did several other testifiers. “While we don’t support the bill in its current version, we will continue to work with legislative leaders to update the law and fix the fundamental problems with salmon habitat protections in our state,” Schryver said in a formal statement April 7. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pebble owners working to refine economics of smaller plan

Pebble Limited Partnership has filed with federal regulators for the key environmental permits for the company’s proposed mine, but whether or not the hotly contested project is economically viable remains unclear, at least publicly. Pebble CEO Tom Collier said in an April 9 interview that the junior mining company plans to change that by the end of the year, if not sooner, by publishing a preliminary economic assessment, or PEA, for its new mine plan. Collier said the company did not have a cost estimate for the project when he unveiled a smaller mine plan in early October, but emphasized he was confident in the project’s economics. Currently, Pebble Limited Partnership has an internal cost estimate but British Columbia’s finance laws prevent the company from disclosing it until the preliminary economic assessment is published, according to Collier. Pebble’s parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. is headquartered in Vancouver. He said Pebble hopes to have the PEA done by the end of this quarter for release in the third quarter of the year or certainly by the end of 2018. Just by their nature large mines are among the most capital-intensive developments. In Alaska those development costs are often exacerbated by mineral deposits in remote locations with little or no infrastructure and Pebble is not immune to those challenges. Pebble requires greenfield development of infrastructure to support a medium-sized town just to gain surface access and power. The overall project plan includes a deepwater port on the west side of Cook Inlet, 65 miles of road and an icebreaking ferry across Iliamna Lake as well as a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the southern Kenai Peninsula. The pipeline would feed a 230-megawatt power plant at the mine site, which would be among the largest power plants in the state. At the mine site there would be a 1.1 billion-ton capacity tailings storage facility to hold the mine waste, a large mill and other facilities all needed to support a 6,500-foot by 5,500-foot mine pit. Typically, mine proponents draft a preliminary economic assessment or a pre-feasibility study during advanced exploration once it becomes clear there is a resource worth pursuing. It is then often several years before a full-fledged assessment or feasibility study is produced, which informs the developers as to whether or not the project should be permitted and subsequently developed. Collier acknowledged Pebble’s process has been circuitous, but said that has largely been due to the actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 under the Obama administration to preemptively prohibit the project. “We were raising money to fight off attacks that were trying to kill the project,” Collier said, referring to the subsequent lawsuit the company filed against the EPA, which was settled out of court last May. “I don’t think there is much of a traditional mold in the way Pebble moves forward. We had to get ourselves into permitting as quick as we could,” he added. Per the settlement with the EPA, Pebble had 30 months to apply for its Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit and 48 months to get a final EIS for the project before the EPA could revisit the proposed restrictions on large mining operations in the Bristol Bay region. Current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in a surprise move, in January declined to rescind the proposed Section 404(c) restriction, meaning that while Pebble is not precluded from developing the mine for some time, the proposed regulatory action still hangs over the project. A 2011 preliminary economic assessment on a much larger, longer-lived mine — 3.8 billion tons of ore over 45 years versus the latest plan of 1.2 billion tons of material over 20 years — projected a 6.2-year payback of an initial capital investment of $4.7 billion with a 14.2 percent pre-tax internal rate of return, according to Northern Dynasty. The larger initial plan included similar transportation infrastructure as the current plan with the addition of slurry, water and diesel pipelines between the mine and the port. The Iliamna ferry replaces roughly 20 miles of road. However, a much larger mine would have provided revenue to support the related development. Opponents contend the smaller mine plan, which Pebble touts as part of its recognition of much of the public’s concern about the project, is just a precursor to efforts to expand the mine. Additionally, Collier has said Pebble will not use cyanide in its latest plan, cutting gold recovery by about 15 percent. Collier said the company doesn’t have plans at this point to conduct a more detailed economic evaluation in the future, as most sophisticated investors should be able to reach an informed decision with the information available in the preliminary assessment and all the other materials about Pebble. “I think (the PEA) is going to answer all the questions the markets will need answered,” Collier said. In December Northern Dynasty announced it had secured a $37.5 million payment from First Quantum Minerals Ltd., a large Canadian mining firm. First Quantum is exploring whether or not to enter into an option agreement with Northern Dynasty and put another $112 million into Pebble over the next several years. If First Quantum continues to support Pebble it will have an option to acquire 50 percent of the Pebble Partnership for $1.35 billion in the next three or four years, according to Collier. Pebble leaders have said they need such a large investment partner to put the project plans into action. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Corps of Engineers extends Pebble scoping period

Stakeholders who want to weigh in on the potential impacts of the Pebble mine project will have two more months to do so. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District announced Friday morning that it will be extending the public scoping period to 90 days from the statutory minimum of 30 days for the project’s environmental impact statement, or EIS. The Pebble EIS scoping period, which began April 1, will now run until June 29 instead of the original April 30 closing date. Scoping, as the name implies, is when the public and cooperating government agencies are asked to submit the scope of potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts that should be studied in a proposed development’s EIS. The Corps of Engineers has also had an invitation out to 35 recognized Tribes for government-to-government consultation during the Pebble EIS process since Jan. 12, according to a March 30 press release. The extension comes after repeated calls for such an action from not only opponents to the project but also Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. Murkowski wrote to Corps of Engineers Alaska leaders April 3 in part requesting they consider the concerns of those who feel 30 days for scoping “may be insufficient for a project of this magnitude and potential impact.” Murkowski also emphasized that she remains neutral on Pebble, but she strongly objected to the Environmental Protection Agency’s move in 2014 to preemptively stop the project. Walker has repeatedly stated he is against the Pebble project, going back to his 2014 campaign for governor. When Pebble Limited Partnership unveiled its scaled-down mine plan in October Walker stopped short of wholly denouncing the plan, but said in an interview with Alaska Public Media that the company still has a exceedingly high burden to clear and he is very skeptical it can be developed responsibly. Murkowski additionally asked Corps officials to hold more scoping meetings in communities in the Nushagak River drainage where the mine would be located. The Corps originally scheduled one scoping meeting in Dillingham April 17, which is the regional hub community at the mouth of the Nushagak about 100 miles southwest of the mine site. However, a public meeting in New Stuyahok, a village along the middle reaches of the Nushagak, was recently added for April 13, according to the Corps’ website for the project. The other meetings are in communities near the project’s other proposed facilities — the gas pipeline, a deepwater port, an Iliamna Lake ferry and associated roads. Murkowski also asked that Alaska Native corporations be consulted on the project. Bristol Bay Native Corp., which is the regional Native corporation for the area, has long been an ardent opponent of Pebble. Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack sent a similar letter to Corps Alaska leaders March 28 asking for 90 to 120 days of scoping for the Pebble EIS. Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole wrote via email that the company supports the Corps’ decision to extend the scoping period “as we want a thorough, comprehensive, robust EIS. We remain confident that once all of the technical information has been subjected to this level of scrutiny and review we will secure permits for a responsible mine at Pebble.” Heatwole downplayed the importance of the public input period when the 30-day scoping plan was released. He suggested the public comment period following the release of the draft EIS is far more important, as it is when the public can critique the work the Corps’ has done evaluating the project and suggest changes for the final draft. When the Corps released its initial two-year schedule to reach a record of decision on the Pebble EIS with a 30-day scoping period March 20, it immediately drew sharp criticism from groups fighting the project. While the EIS schedule and drafting for each project is different because no two developments are the same, they noted the Corps has regularly taken upwards of five years to complete the EIS process on other large projects in the state; some with scoping periods in excess of 100 days. Shane McCoy, the Pebble Project Manager for the Corps, said in an interview after the Pebble timeline was released that it is a “straw man schedule” and stressed that the agency understands the strong emotions that surround the project. The Corps has taken more than five years to reach a final EIS on the Donlin Gold mine project, which is roughly similar to Pebble’s plans. Donlin Gold is an open-pit mine project in the Kuskokwim River drainage north of the Pebble deposits in Western Alaska. Both projects, as proposed, call for large surface mines in the upper reaches of large salmon-bearing watersheds with commercial and subsistence fisheries, as well as natural gas pipelines from Cook Inlet to power the operations. Mack noted in his letter that the Donlin scoping period lasted 105 days with 14 public meetings — at a rate of about one per week — and wrote that the state requests a similar process for Pebble. There are nine public meetings currently scheduled over 11 days in mid-April during Pebble’s scoping period. Donlin Gold applied to initiate an EIS in December 2012 and a final EIS is expected soon, according to the Corps’ schedule for the project. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Corps of Engineers releases two-year schedule for Pebble EIS

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking to fast-track the environmental review of the proposed Pebble mine and the project’s opponents, to put it mildly, aren’t happy about it. The Corps released a schedule March 20 of roughly two years to complete the Pebble environmental impact statement, or EIS, and reach a record of decision on the project. A 30-day scoping period, in which the public can submit comments to the Corps regarding what they believe should be evaluated for potential impacts from the project, is set to start April 1. Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, called the Pebble timeline “outrageous.” UTBB is a consortium of 15 Alaska Native governments from the region. Hurley contends that while it is legal — 30 days is the minimum time for an EIS scoping public comment period — public scoping for a single month is well outside the bounds of precedent the Corps and other federal agencies have set for projects the size of what Pebble Limited Partnership is proposing. “There is no way you can get meaningful comment in 30 days,” Hurley said. A statement from Trout Unlimited Alaska notes the Corps of Engineers is currently leading the EIS for three other large projects in Alaska: the state-sponsored Alaska Standalone Pipeline, or ASAP, project, the Nanushuk North Slope oil development, and the Donlin Gold mine in the Kuskokwim River drainage to the north of Pebble. The scoping comment periods for those projects were from 75 to 106 days. The Corps’ Pebble Project Manager Shane McCoy in an interview called the EIS timeline “a strawman schedule.” He said the Corps is required to publish the schedule, but the agency will know much more about how long the Pebble review will actually take after scoping is complete and the comments are analyzed. McCoy acknowledged the two-year schedule is “aggressive” but said Pebble also has provided substantial baseline information to support the work. He added that agency leaders will also decide soon whether or not to extend the scoping period after receiving requests to do so. “We understand the emotions surrounding this project,” McCoy said. Hurley said a longer 60- or 90-day scoping comment period would run up against the annual time when countless area residents are busy prepping for the salmon season that starts in mid-June; however, that would also allow individuals who fish in the region but live elsewhere an opportunity to have their voices heard directly. Hurley also said it’s particularly concerning to her that the only public hearing in the Nushagak River watershed is in the local hub of Dillingham, with no meetings scheduled for upriver Nushagak villages closer to the mine site. The Nushagak is one of two large salmon-producing drainages the project straddles; the Kvichak River-Iliamna Lake system is the other. While fungible, the overall two-year EIS timeline, from March 2018 to early 2020, also comes as a surprise to those monitoring the project closely. When Pebble submitted its Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit application in late December, Corps of Engineers Alaska regulatory officials noted the average EIS for a large project in the state usually takes four to five years. Pebble CEO Tom Collier said at the time he hoped the review could be done in three. According to the schedule, Corps officials hope to have a draft EIS finished by next January with the final EIS published late next year leading to the early 2020 record of decision, according to the project website. The Corps manages Clean Water Act wetlands activity permits for the Environmental Protection Agency and large wetlands fill applications such as Pebble’s usually trigger a full EIS. The mine site north of Iliamna Lake would fill 3,190 acres of wetlands, according to Pebble’s Section 404 application. In January, Pebble’s adversaries got a bit of welcomed but unexpected news from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who declined to remove the Obama administration’s proposed prohibitions on developing a large mine in the Bristol Bay region. Pruitt indicated the agency is still highly skeptical the project can adequately coexist with the area’s fisheries, but also stressed his decision “neither deters nor derails” Pebble’s environmental permitting process because nothing has been finalized. The entire project stretches over 187 miles from the start of a natural gas pipeline near Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula, across Cook Inlet to a deepwater port that would be built on the edge of Kamishak Bay on the west side of the Inlet 53 miles of roads plus a ferry leading to the mine itself. Hurley noted that residents near the Donlin project — similarly a large open-pit mine proposal with a gas pipeline from Cook Inlet — were afforded 16 public scoping meetings by the Corps. The Donlin Gold EIS was initiated in December 2012; a draft EIS was published in November 2015 and a final EIS is expected soon. Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said the company is pleased with the schedule the Corps has put forth. “I think they’ve laid out a fairly comprehensive and transparent approach to what they’re hoping to accomplish,” Heatwole said in an interview. “We certainly hope, as we’ve said for quite a while, it’s an expeditious permitting review process for the project. There’s a lot of material to cover and we hope that we get a comprehensive review through that.” He also stressed that scoping is the time when the public can weigh in with what they feel the Corps should evaluate relating to Pebble — much of which have been aired for years — and those issues “are pretty well known.” “Once the draft EIS comes out, that’s when you really get into the comprehensive look at what the Corps has put forward,” Heatwole added. The minimum public-comment period after a draft EIS is published is 45 days. For Pebble, eight scoping meetings were originally planned: seven in Bristol Bay-area communities and one each in Homer and Anchorage. However, a March 22 release from the Corps’ Alaska District indicates a meeting planned for Igiugig, a community at the outlet of Iliamna Lake has been cancelled, leaving seven scoping meetings. Those meetings are set for the period from April 9 in King Salmon to April 19 in Anchorage. The Corps also translated a condensed version of the Donlin draft EIS into Yupik, which is the first language for many of the region’s Alaska Native residents, but no action has been set for Pebble, Hurley contended. “It’s the Corps’ mandate to make sure people can engage whether they’re English speaking or not,” she said. Donlin Gold translated additional project information on its website into Yupik on its own, according to a company spokesman. Heatwole said the Pebble Partnership is still evaluating the best ways for it to engage with communities near the project. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Cost estimate drops for Ambler mining prospect

The company that has led exploration in the Ambler mining district is now shifting to develop its primary prospect after many years of work. Trilogy Metals released a pre-feasibility study for its project at the Arctic prospect in Northwest Alaska with a higher initial capital estimates cost but a lower overall cost Feb. 20. Formerly NovaCopper Inc., Vancouver-based Trilogy Metals changed its name in 2016 to reflect the multi-metal deposits the company holds. Located in the middle of the large Ambler mining district that stretches along the southern face of the Brooks Range in Northwest Alaska, Trilogy leaders project the high-grade Arctic deposit to be the first of several mines in the area. The Arctic prospect holds an estimated 2.4 billion pounds of indicated copper resources at a 3.07 percent grade; 3.3 billion pounds of indicated zinc at 4.23 percent; and precious metal resources estimated at 55 million ounces of indicated silver and 730,000 ounces of gold, according to the Feb. 20 report. Estimated costs to develop Arctic have grown 9 percent since a 2013 preliminary economic assessment and are now pegged at $780 million. However, a 60 percent drop in expected annual operating and 20 percent decrease in closure and reclamation costs — to about $65 million each — cut the all-in cost for the mine by 5.5 percent from $964 million in 2013 to $911 million today. Trilogy executives said during a call with investors that the drastic drop in operating costs is due to changes in the plan for waste rock and tailings management, fuel and federal tax reform. The original high-level Arctic design called for potentially acid-generating waste rock to be comingled with mine tailings, which resulted in the need for a larger tailings facility and dam, according to Trilogy CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse. The current revised design has mine tailings and wastewater behind a dam with waste rock and an associated collection pond directly in front of and below the tailings dam at the head of the Subarctic Creek valley that will hold the mine waste. Additionally, switching from diesel to LNG as a fuel source to power the mine facilities equates to a 41 percent reduction in the cost of power at Arctic, according to the pre-feasibility study. “We’ve worked hard over the last several years to confirm that we can use LNG that’s available in Alaska — and they’re trucking it up to Fairbanks now,” Van Nieuwenhuyse said, referencing Fairbanks Natural Gas’ use of LNG trucked north from Point MacKenzie in the Mat-Su Borough to supply its customers. “We can haul LNG just as easily as diesel.” Utilizing LNG should also make obtaining an air quality permit for the project from the state Department of Environmental Conservation much easier, he noted. The natural gas could be sourced from Cook Inlet as the Fairbanks utility currently does or from a large gasline off the North Slope if the state’s Alaska LNG Project materializes. Van Nieuwenhuyse also said Trilogy has settled on using enclosed cubed containers for trucking metal concentrates from the mine — with a higher upfront cost than open trailers — that should eventually pay for themselves through no lost concentrates during transport. “I think more importantly by not losing concentrate as fugitive dust you’re not contaminating the environment. This is a win-win for the overall project,” he said. Developing the Arctic mine — or any project in the Ambler district — is predicated on the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority being successful with its effort to permit, finance and construct a 220-mile road west from the Dalton Highway to access the region. The federal Bureau of Land Management is currently drafting the first version of the environmental impact statement for the $300 million-plus road. Van Nieuwenhuyse said Trilogy has tried with its work at Arctic to keep pace with AIDEA’s work on the Ambler access road. A permit decision on the road is expected in early 2020, according to AIDEA, with two subsequent years of construction. The state’s plan is to pay for the road through tolls from the companies mining and exploring the Ambler region. Accordingly, Trilogy hopes to start applying for its environmental permits in 2019 and embark on a full feasibility study in 2020, Van Nieuwenhuyse said in an interview. Ideally, it would all lead to a completed road and the start of Arctic construction in about five years, he said. This summer Trilogy will be doing $4 million to $5 million worth of water management studies and geotechnical evaluations of the tailings dam site. The company is also preparing for another $10 million exploration program at its Bornite prospect to the south of Arctic. Overall, Van Nieuwenhuyse said the company will be employing about 80 people at its projects during the summer work season as it has in recent years. Trilogy’s financials at Arctic are based on a minimum 12-year mine life. It’s a small but very prospective deposit. The company is estimating it can recover pre-tax development costs within two years of operations based on an average market price of copper at $3 per pound. Even at $2 per pound copper, Trilogy estimates after-tax payback within three years. Copper has traded in the $3 per pound range of late. Annual production from the mine is planned at about 160 million pounds of copper, 200 million pounds of zinc, 33 million pounds of lead, 30,600 ounces of gold and 3.3 million ounces of silver over its life. While Arctic holds and is expected to produce more zinc, copper generally sells for significantly more than zinc, which has traded between $1.20 and $1.60 per pound over the past year. Total costs for mine development, operations and access road tolls are pegged at 63 cents per pound of payable copper, according to Trilogy. “At current prices your cash flow is well over $500 million of free cash flow so this thing is really crunching out a lot of cash,” Van Nieuwenhuyse commented. As a result, Trilogy leaders aren’t nearly as worried about metal prices as the proponents of other remote mines— with extremely high costs — in Alaska. “If we’ve got the kinds of commodity prices that would shut down this mine we’ve got other things to worry about,” Van Nieuwenhuyse said in an interview. “We certainly envision here for the future a central milling facility at Arctic that is conveniently located smack dab in the middle of this 100-mile long (Ambler) belt.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Mallott, Sullivan meet with top Canadians on transboundary issues

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and Sen. Dan Sullivan watched Super Bowl LII together in Ottawa and spent time strategizing on their approach to the next day’s meetings. They were there to discuss issues as far-reaching as ocean debris, missile defense and the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canadian federal officials as well as provincial and First Nations leaders, according to Sullivan, but the priority topic brought up in every discussion was that of Canadian mines at the headwaters of rivers that terminate in Alaska. The state officials reviewed the meetings in a Feb. 5 call with Alaska press. From the outset, Sullivan said the fact that Mallott, a longtime Democrat leader in the state, and himself, a staunch conservative, were in lockstep on the transboundary rivers issue sent a “powerful message of unity and that this is a very important issue of concern for the people we represent.” At the heart of the matter are 10 mines in British Columbia that are either in operation or stages of exploration and development. Those mines or mineral prospects are mostly open pit projects focused on copper and gold recovery. The mine locations within the watersheds of the large Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers that support large salmon fisheries are the primary cause for concern among Southeast Alaska commercial fishing and conservation groups that fear problems at the mines could damage or destroy the rivers’ fisheries. Mallott and Sullivan said they pushed four priorities they are seeking action on from Canadian officials — either at the federal or provincial levels. The Alaskans requested increased transparency in the permitting process for the mines and opportunities for Alaskan stakeholders to provide input when mine plans are being reviewed. They also asked for additional financial assurances or bonding requirements for the mine operating companies to protect Alaska fishing and tourism businesses that rely on robust fisheries in the rivers “if, God forbid, we had a Mt. Polley-type disaster that went into our waters,” Sullivan described. The 2014 Mt. Polley mine tailings dam breach spilled more than 6 billion gallons of wastewater into the upper Fraser River system in British Columbia. Mt. Polley mine operator Vancouver-based Imperial Metals Corp. opened the Red Chris copper-gold mine in the upper Stikine River watershed in 2015. Sullivan added that they also asked the Canadian government to join in funding baseline water quality studies and ongoing monitoring to track if the mines are impacting the rivers, a program which Congress started funding last year. Lastly, they insisted on immediate reclamation of the Tulsequah Chief mine that has been leaching acid rock drainage into the Taku River near Juneau since the mine was abandoned in 1957. A temporary water treatment plant was built in 2011 to deal with the leaching but it was quickly shut down in 2012, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Chieftain Metals Corp. is now proposing an underground mine at the Tulsequah site that is about 10 miles upriver from the Alaska border. The project received regulatory approval from British Columbia in 2012 but is awaiting financing. Sullivan said he thought the meetings were constructive but the transboundary issue is far from solved. “We put forward some specific requests and we’re going to press on those,” he said Feb. 5. “I think they’re legitimate requests; I think they’re reasonable requests but they’re requests for specific actions and we certainly hope our Canadian friends will work with us to follow up on it.” Mallott said the talks furthered the progress made by the Walker administration on the issue. In 2015, Gov. Bill Walker and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed a memorandum of understanding to promote economic development in concert with environmental protection. That led to a statement of cooperation signed by Mallott and British Columbia Environment and Mines ministers in Oct. 2016, which established a working group of state and provincial officials to discuss transboundary issues. Mallott said the meetings were important because the sides were able to discuss important policies that are outside of the nonbinding statement of cooperation. A possible referral of the issue to the International Joint Commission — strongly advocated for by Alaska Native and conservation groups — was not discussed in detail during the meetings but will be part of talks between the governments in the spring, according to Mallott. “The process involved for an IJC referral will continue to be discussed by the (federal) governments and we have asked them to do so,” he said. The International Joint Commission consists of five commissioners, two from Canada and three from the U.S., who review transboundary watershed issues. It was established after the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty, which at the time settled a battle between Montana and Alberta farmers who had dug competing canals to divert water from area rivers to their farms. According to its website, the commission has since settled more than 100 matters raised by the governments. An arbiter body, IJC can only get involved when called upon by both governments. In the U.S., the State Department makes that call. In November, Walker, Mallott and three members of the Alaska congressional delegation sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging him to help protect Alaska’s economic interests of fishing and tourism in Southeast by raising the transboundary mine issue in talks with his Canadian counterparts. Charles Faulkner, of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, responded with a letter Dec. 14, writing that the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have established a workgroup to coordinate actions and communicate concerns to Canadian officials. State Department officials in October also got a commitment from Global Affairs Canada to take up a bilateral review of potential gaps or shortcomings in cooperative agreements between the countries that deal with transboundary issues. “The Department of State will lead this review process with interagency and stakeholder input, with the goal of sharing its findings with Global Affairs Canada at the April 2018 IJC meetings,” Faulkner wrote. “We value your assistance and input in this effort. As Canadian support would be required for a joint IJC reference, we will continue to raise this issue in upcoming bilateral meetings.” The issue of mines in British Columbia potentially impacting fisheries in Alaska waters has been one Alaska officials have tried to tread lightly on despite calls for a much tougher stance by some Southeast groups. That’s because, for one, they do not want to strain what has historically been a strong relationship with British Columbia and Canada in general, as well as the facts that the state has little actual leverage in addition to a long history if mining and support for the industry. To the latter point, Sullivan said he emphasized that Alaska supports resource development in the meetings, but he believes the state has valid concerns given what could happen downriver from the mines. He and Mallott also said the issue of oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain — one Canadian Embassy officials actively lobbied against in Congress during the tax reform debate — came up in the transboundary river meetings. Sullivan described it as “probably one of the more contentious issues of our meetings.” “There was a bit of an analogy between the Porcupine caribou herd and transboundary mining and I, at least in my response, said I rejected that completely,” Sullivan recalled. Canadian officials have opposed oil development in ANWR for the fear that it would impact the calving grounds of the caribou herd that migrates into the Yukon Territory and is relied on by there by First Nations people as it is by some Alaska Natives. In a December interview with the Journal, Sullivan contended that the only reason Canada opposes development in ANWR is because the country didn’t find any oil on its side of the border when exploratory drilling was done in the Yukon Arctic decades ago. In that interview, Sullivan said he told the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. to “stand down” or he was going to “do everything I can to screw your country.” The delegation in an October letter to the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. said British Columbia to that point had done “remarkably little” to consider their transboundary concerns and pointed to the Mt. Polley and the Tulsequah Chief mine as demonstrable indicators that “Canadian mining is not always carried out to the same safety standards as in the U.S.” Mallott said the state will follow through with consultation that is required under a 1987 treaty with Canada meant to ensure a healthy Porcupine caribou herd. The state is also working to develop an accord with the Yukon Territory to address climate change and economic development matters, according to Mallott. “We were very clear to say we’re supportive of the exploration that is now authorized in the 1002 area of ANWR but that we also wanted to work closely with particularly the indigenous people on both sides of the border as we proceed ahead,” Mallott said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

EPA’s unexpected decision welcomed by Pebble opponents

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s unexpected Jan. 26 comments expressing his environmental concerns about the Pebble mine were welcomed by mine opponents and reflected in the stock price of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which is the sole owner of the prospective copper and gold project. Pruitt announced Jan. 26 that the EPA would not finalize the proposed withdrawal of the 2014 proposed determination to prohibit a large mine in the Bristol Bay region through its Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority. The agency said in a statement that it has “serious concerns” about the impacts of mining activity in the Bristol Bay watershed and public comments in stakeholder meetings stressed the importance of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery. Pruitt said it would be disingenuous for the agency to not to offer an environmental position at this stage of the project. Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty’s stock opened trading on domestic markets down 19 percent Jan. 29 from its closing price of $1.52 per share Jan. 26. The EPA’s statement on the project was issued after East Coast markets had closed that day. Northern Dynasty’s stock price stabilized at about $1.18 per share, or down about 22 percent after several hours of trading Jan. 29. Northern Dynasty is also traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Pebble Limited Partnership filed its wetlands fill permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dec. 22. The application outlines plans to fill 3,190 acres of wetlands at the mine site. While not specific to any mine plan — a point Pebble and parent company Northern Dynasty minerals have stressed — the Bristol Bay Watershed assessment published by EPA in 2014 concludes a mine that would fill more than about 1,100 acres would be too damaging to fish habitat to allow. Pruitt emphasized in his statement that his decision “neither deters nor derails” the Pebble environmental permit application process now underway while at the same time he has heard from stakeholders on whether to withdraw the proposed 404(c) restrictions. “Based on that review, it is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there,” Pruitt said Friday. “Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection. Today’s action allows the EPA to get the information needed to determine what specific impacts the proposed mining project will have on those critical resources.” According to the Federal Register docket, just more than 1 million public comments have been submitted to the EPA on the proposal to withdraw the proposed 404(c) restriction, but it is currently unclear how many favor or oppose the action. With that in mind, Bristol Bay-area Native groups, lawmakers and fishing organizations considered Pruitt’s position — largely surprising given the Trump administration’s push to promote mining and infrastructure projects — a step in the right direction. United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley said the group is happy Pruitt left the proposed veto “on the table,” but it will be several years before the EPA could invoke it under the terms of a May 2017 settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Pebble Partnership. Pebble sued the agency in 2014 alleging the EPA was biased in its proposed action after improperly colluding with anti-Pebble groups to reach its conclusion. A federal judge issued an injunction in late 2014 that stopped the EPA from finalizing the proposed restrictions against mining in the Bristol Bay watershed; settlement talks between the EPA and Pebble started late in the Obama administration and were ultimately concluded under Trump’s. Pebble CEO Tom Collier highlighted in the company’s response that the agreement the EPA reached with Pebble last year gives the company the assurance it can go through the federal permitting process without the worry of the agency finalizing the proposed preemptive prohibition on Pebble. “The (Corps of Engineers) has determined we have a complete application and has initiated a thorough, objective review of the Pebble project,” Collier said. “We intend to participate fully in the process and encourage al project stakeholders to do the same. “We believe we can demonstrate that we can responsibly construct and operate a mine at the Pebble deposit that meets Alaska’s high environmental standards. We will also demonstrate that we can successfully operate a mine without compromising the fish and water resources around the project. We look forward to having all of our detailed information fairly reviewed by the Corps of Engineers and other participating regulatory agencies through the longstanding, lawful permitting process.” Specifically, the EPA-Pebble settlement called for the agency to start the process of withdrawing the proposed mining restriction, which it did in July, but it does not require that process be finalized and because it is a proposal to remove a proposal with nothing final, Pruitt’s action set a tone but did not change anything formally. The settlement also does not allow for the EPA to resume restricting the development until a final environmental impact statement is published for the project or four years after the May 2017 settlement, whichever comes first. UTBB President Robert Heyano said Pruitt’s decision shows the power of a unified local voice even in times of highly partisan politics. “The United Tribes of Bristol Bay would like thank EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, (Region 10) Administrator Chris Hladick and the staff at EPA for their work. The fight to protect our watershed from Pebble is far from finished. But today’s decision, and all those who worked tirelessly to get us here, will be celebrated,” Heyano said. Hladick, a former city manager of Dillingham, where the project is widely opposed, transitioned from heading the Commerce Department in Gov. Bill Walker’s administration to leading the Alaska-Pacific Northwest region of the EPA in December. Walker said told the Journal while campaigning in 2014 that he opposed development of Pebble but also was worried about the precedent the EPA’s preemptive push to prevent the mine could have on other development projects in the state. The governor told Alaska Public Media in October that he had not been convinced Pebble should move forward and the company had a high bar to clear to had taken appropriate steps to prevent potential damage to the fish and wildlife habitat — a stance Pebble deemed appropriate at that time. “I have spoken to Administrator Pruitt about the Pebble Mine Project many times in the past year, and I have shared with him my belief that in the Bristol Bay region we should prioritize the resource that has sustained generations and must continue to do so in perpetuity. I thank the Environmental Protection Agency and the Trump administration for listening to my input, as well as the input of thousands of Alaskans who oppose rescinding the EPA’s Bristol Bay (restrictions),” Walker said Jan. 26. California treasurer weighs in Meanwhile, California Treasurer John Chiang sent a letter Jan. 29 to leaders of First Quantum Minerals Ltd. urging them to stay out of the Pebble project. Chiang is also a trustee to the California Public Employees’ Retirement and California State Teachers’ Retirement systems. He wrote that the California pension funds believe sustainable business practices are fundamentally important to long-term value growth for sharheolders and therefore, First Quantum, a Canadian mining firm investigating whether or not to invest in Pebble, should not. “As a fiduciary of these funds, I cannot ignore the far-reaching economic implications and sustainability risks at play here,” Chiang wrote to First Quantum CEO Philip Pascall and President Clive Newall. “In my view, investment in the Pebble project presents undue risk not only to the long-term sustainability to the Bristol Bay region, but also to the value of our long-term investments in First Quantum Minerals, Ltd.” CalPERs, with a total market value of $362 billion, holds nearly 4.3 million shares of First Quantum as well as bonds in the mining company with a maturity value of $2.3 million, the fund’s latest annual report states. There are more than 689 million outstanding shares of First Quantum stock, according to the company’s 2017 annual report. First Quantum and Northern Dynasty announced a framework investment agreement Dec. 18 under which the former could invest up to $1.35 billion in Pebble to buy a 50 percent interest in Pebble Limited Partnership, the project operating company. First Quantum made an initial $37.5 million option payment to Northern Dynasty to support permitting costs shortly after the deal outline was announced, according to Northern Dynasty officials. The company is expected to make a decision on the overall agreement in the second quarter of this year. Chiang noted that he and then-City of New York Comptroller John Liu in 2013 expressed their concerns about Pebble to Northern Dynasty’s then-partner Rio Tinto, a mining major, and Rio Tinto divested its share of Pebble in April 2014. Northern Dynasty has said it will need a large investment partner to help fund mine permitting and development. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Initiative sponsors turn in signatures as BBNC shifts to neutral

Advocates of strengthening Alaska’s salmon habitat protection took a big step forward when they dumped roughly 49,500 signatures on the front desk of the Division of Elections Anchorage office Jan. 16. The signatures from Alaskans statewide were collected by Stand for Salmon, the nonprofit aimed at reforming anadromous fish habitat permitting requirements via the ballot initiative they’ve dubbed “Yes for Salmon.” Early morning drizzle and icy roads didn’t damper the spirits of about 20 initiative backers that gathered outside the Division of Elections to be ready to submit the signatures for certification as soon as the state offices opened at 8 a.m. Jan. 16, the start of the legislative session, was the last day to hand the petition booklets in and get the initiative on the 2018 ballot. It was also the day that Bristol Bay Native Corp., a major opponent of the Pebble mine, revised its stance on the initiative from against to neutral. While the signature hurdle is a big one, the initiative still faces stiff opposition from industry groups and the State of Alaska. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott first rejected the initiative on the advice of the Department of Law because the state’s lawyers deemed it would appropriate Alaska’s water resources for salmon habitat — the state Constitution requires resource allocation be left to the Legislature — and therefore be unconstitutional. After Mallott’s ruling was appealed and overturned in Superior Court, the state took its turn to appeal to the Supreme Court in October. Oral Arguments in the case are now set for April 26. “This is a promising moment for all Alaskans. Tens of thousands of Alaskans from Nome to Ketchikan, from every single legislative district, have said that we want the opportunity to reflect a true balance between responsible development and protection of salmon,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, an initiative sponsor and director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Quinn-Davidson replaced Bristol Bay lodge owner Brian Kraft, an original sponsor, after Kraft stepped away from the campaign in November for personal reasons, according to Stand for Salmon representatives. Sponsors are required to gather signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of number of voters in the previous election from 32 of the 40 House districts in the state. For 2018 initiatives that meant getting 32,127 signatures, according to the Division of Elections. Campaign workers said they set a goal of 45,000 to account for unqualified signatures and were proud to have gathered the required amount in all 40 districts. Specifically, the initiative seeks to overhaul Title 16, the Department of Fish and Game’s statutory directive on how to evaluate development projects in salmon habitat. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game.” The sponsors contend that is far too vague and an update is needed to just define what “proper protection” means. The initiative would, among other things, establish two tiers of development permits that could be issued by the Department of Fish and Game. “Minor” habitat permits could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters. “Major” permits for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing waters would require the project sponsor to prove the project would not damage salmon habitat. Mitigation measures would be acceptable as long as they are implemented on the impacted stream or wetland area. Additionally, the project sponsor would have to prove that impacted waters are not salmon habitat during any stage of the fish life cycle if the waters are connected to proven salmon habitat in any way but not yet listed in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog. The sponsors insist it is not aimed to stop development projects; rather, it would set high but transparent permitting standards that are necessary to protect salmon resources that are already being stressed by multiple factors, they contend. Even if it wins at the Supreme Court, a laundry list of resource development, unions and trade groups, along with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Regional Association (made up of the 12 Native regional corporations) and the Alaska Chamber have formed an opposition group called Stand for Alaska. That group has already received contributions totaling $147,000 according to an Alaska Public Offices Commission report. Stand for Salmon has collected $271,000 as of Jan. 7 according to APOC with the biggest donor the Alaska Conservation Foundation at $60,000. Opponents contend the initiative would decimate the state’s economy and make even the smallest projects — down to road repairs — extremely difficult if not impossible to permit. SFA co-chair Joey Merrick of the Laborers’ Local 341, who is also a member of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors, said in a press release that the initiative poses a risk to his members’ jobs. “Alaska already is in a serious recession with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. The last thing we need is more expensive, time consuming, and unnecessary policies that cost Alaskans their livelihoods,” Merrick said. AGDC President Keith Meyer has argued that the initiative would prevent the construction of the Alaska LNG Project, and Gov. Bill Walker has also expressed opposition to the measure. Walker said the initiative is too broad in its scope and it could hamper nearly every area of project development in the state. “I think when you’re making definitions that impact development of projects in Alaska and you do that through the initiative process — I was very concerned about that,” he said in a Dec. 22 interview with the Journal. “I would like there to be a discussion back and forth; hearings in the appropriate hearing rooms in Juneau and various folks being able to weigh in.” BBNC changes stance on initiative The Jan. 16 press release from Stand for Alaska lists Bristol Bay Native Corp. among the dozens of corporations, trade groups and chambers of commerce opposing the initiative, but that list may need to be revised. BBNC is no longer against the initiative, but is not for it, either. CEO Jason Metrokin said in a Jan. 16 statement to the Journal that “BBNC has been and continues to be neutral on the initiative; neither opposing it nor supporting it. The ANCSA Regional Association as a body took its own action in opposing the initiative. BBNC and other ANCSA regional corporations are discussing ways to improve Title 16; changes that would improve salmon habitat protection but not preclude responsible development projects.” Metrokin, in an October statement to the Journal, reemphasized the corporation’s longstanding opposition to the Pebble mine project, but also said that BBNC “did not support (House Bill) 199 last legislative session and cannot support the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative. Each would unnecessarily and negatively impact resource development projects and potentially the subsistence activities upon which our shareholders rely depend.” Metrokin continued to note in October that the Native corporation wants to work with the Walker administration and the Legislature to “appropriately update Title 16’s anadromous fish habitat provisions.” The ANCSA Regional Association, with a board comprised of the 12 regional corporation leaders and Alaska Federation of Natives head Julie Kitka, voted unanimously to oppose the initiative in July, according to an October op-ed penned by CIRI CEO Sophie Minich and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. CEO Rex Rock. Other media outlets subsequently reported in November that BBNC opposed the proposed ballot measure as well. BBNC issued a press release Jan. 5 urging the Legislature to revise Title 16 and stressing the company’s positions on salmon habitat and other resource issues are grounded in a belief that decisions about how to balance uses of competing resources should always start with putting “fish first.” “The protections in Title 16 help ensure that development projects do not threaten Alaska’s anadromous fisheries. It is imperative that Alaska periodically review and update those statutes. This has not been done in nearly 60 years. It is time for the Legislature to do so,” the Jan. 5 release concludes. Shortly thereafter, BBNC board of directors member H. Robin Samuelsen Jr. told the Journal there was a “misunderstanding” between Metrokin and board members regarding the corporation’s stance on the initiative, but referred further questions to BBNC executives. Those questions led to the Jan. 16 statement. Democrat House Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham has said the House Majority will hold hearings on House Bill 199 this session to gather information on how Title 16 can be improved with input from those that oppose the initiative and the current version of HB 199. The bill language largely mirrors that found in the initiative and Edgmon has said he does not expect it to pass this session because of the consternation the initiative has caused. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Permit application reveals size of scaled-down Pebble project

The official Pebble mine plan released Jan. 5 by federal regulators describes a scaled-back project relative to prior concepts, but opponents contend it is a way for the company to get its foot in the door for future expansion. Published by the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the plan details a project that is much more than a mine. According to Pebble’s plan documents, its reach would stretch 187 miles from the mine site north of Iliamna Lake to the edge of the Sterling Highway on the southern Kenai Peninsula. In between would be a natural gas pipeline up to 12 inches wide traversing the Cook Inlet sea floor for 95 miles from the Anchor Point area to a deepwater port at Amakdedori west of Augustine Island. From there, a two-lane, private road would run 35 miles northwest to a ferry terminal on the south shore of Iliamna Lake. An ice-breaking ferry would then shuttle materials 18 miles across roughly the midpoint of the massive Iliamna Lake, which is the largest in Alaska. Another 30 miles of industrial road would connect the north ferry terminal near the village of Newhalen with the mine site. The gas pipeline would follow the rest of the transportation corridor to the mine. In early October, Pebble CEO Tom Collier unveiled a rough outline to the company’s plans. Collier said then the mine the company intends to construct is smaller than what has long been speculated and incorporates stakeholder concerns both in the footprint of the mine and broader project designs. The ferry, for instance, would be employed to reduce road construction and associated impacts to wetlands, according to Collier. He reiterated as much in a Jan. 5 statement issued by Pebble. “We believe that as Alaskans become more familiar with our proposed project design and the environmental safeguards it incorporates, there will (be) an increasing degree of support for the project, and the significant economic potential it represents for the State of Alaska,” Collier said. Pebble estimates the project will generate about 2,000 jobs during its four-year construction and about 850 full-time positions over its 20-year life. The now-public Pebble project plans were submitted to the Corps Dec. 22 in Pebble’s wetlands discharge permit application, required under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers first reviews wetlands permit applications and if deemed complete issues a public notice announcing the proposal within 15 days of the application and makes it available to the public. The Corps also issues a determination on what level of environmental review an application necessitates and, unsurprisingly in this case, deemed Pebble worthy of a full environmental impact statement. Corps Alaska regulatory officials have said the average EIS for a large project takes four to five years, while Collier has said he hopes the project can be approved in three. The next step is for the Corps to select a third-party contractor to develop the EIS. Ron Thiessen, CEO of Pebble’s parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. said Pebble expects to sign a memorandum of agreement with the Corps “in the very near term” and subsequently issue a request for proposals from which the Corps will select the EIS drafter. At the end of the road but the center of controversy, the mine site would include a suite of facilities over several square miles. The heart of the operation would be the mine pit: 6,500 feet long; 5,500 feet wide and up to 1,750 feet deep. A large bulk tailings storage facility capable of holding 950 million tons of waste rock would collect most of the milled ore. A smaller, lined tailings storage cell designed to hold 135 million tons of potentially acid generating mine waste would be segregated from the bulk tailings but be behind the same series of tailings dams. The storage facilities are designed to handle mine waste generated over 20 years of operations, according to Pebble’s documents. The primary tailings embankment would be 600 feet tall and three others would be between 60 and 420 feet tall. Each would have a 2.6-to-1 slope, according to Pebble. The natural gas pipeline would terminate at and feed a 230-megawatt power plant, which would provide electricity to the mine and drastically reduce the need for diesel fuel storage, the application notes. For comparison, the power plant would be large enough to supply Golden Valley Electric Association, the electric utility for Fairbanks and surrounding areas, with enough electricity to meet its historical peak demand of 223 megawatts. The onsite facilities would all be in the Koktuli River watershed and avoid Upper Talarik Creek. Avoiding the Talarik drainage, which feeds Iliamna Lake and the Kvichak River, would seemingly avoid any potential damage to the Kvichak’s immense sockeye salmon runs, a point Collier has emphasized as proof of the company’s efforts to minimize its impacts to salmon habitat. Pebble will not use leaching processes that require cyanide to extract gold, which will lower recovery by 15 percent, according to Collier. However, mine opponents have noted the north and south branches of the Koktuli River are primary spawning habitat for the large run of chinook salmon that return to the Nushugak River system. Overall, the mine site would fill 3,190 acres of wetlands and water bodies, according to Pebble. The Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2014 — based on the conclusions of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment — that any project resulting in the loss of more than 1,100 acres of wetlands and water bodies in the area would be an unacceptable impact. How Pebble will, or can, sufficiently mitigate the wetlands losses is unclear. The environmental offsets will be established as the lengthy permitting process plays out, according to the application. Active mining from the pit would occur for 14 years and the final six years of operation would focus on mineral recovery from a stockpile of low-grade ore. As planned, the Pebble mine would produce 600,000 tons of copper-gold concentrate and 15,000 tons of molybdenum per year from 58 million tons of processed ore. Statements from several groups fighting the proposed mine said the tempered plan changes little. “The plan released (Jan. 5) includes only a fraction of the ore within the Pebble deposit, indicating that the impacts could be vastly greater than what’s indicated on the application we see today,” Trout Unlimited Alaska Director Nelli Williams said. “It is clear that Pebble is continuing to deceive and mislead Alaskans and Americans, and their ‘new’ plan is nothing more than the same old threat wrapped in a package they hope is more digestible. Don’t be fooled by this incomplete proposal.” While Pebble’s application is for a 20-year mine with a single pit to reduce its impact, opponents note investor pitches and statements from leaders of Northern Dynasty Minerals highlighting the immense size of the Pebble deposit. A November Northern Dynasty investor presentation stresses Pebble as “the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold resource.” In its Section 404 application, Pebble notes the total deposit is estimated to hold 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 5.5 billion pounds of molybdenum and 107 million ounces of gold. However, the single pit would allow for recovery of just 6.7 billion pounds of cooper, 353 million pounds of molybdenum and 10.7 million ounces of gold. Collier has acknowledged the company might look to expand after initial production commences but contends growing the project would require additional rounds of environmental reviews and permitting that would be independent from any approvals Pebble already had. He said in a December interview that the company does not have a definitive cost estimate on its massive undertaking, but he did say Pebble is confident in the project’s economics at current metal prices. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pebble finally files for permits

The Pebble Limited Partnership has long been criticized for many things, but as of Dec. 22 that list no longer includes failure to file for environmental permits. Pebble and its Vancouver-based parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals filed for a Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Alaska Army Corps officials said Dec. 21 that the wetlands fill permit application detailing the types and volumes of fill material the project will use and the area of wetlands it is expected to cover would first be subject to a 15-day completeness review. If the wetlands application is deemed complete the Corps will then issue a public notice saying as much and — given the size of the project — issue a subsequent determination that the project needs to go through the full, multi-year environmental impact statement process. Northern Dynasty leaders said early in 2017 they planned to start permitting for the wildly controversial project by the end of the year, a promise that was met with understandable skepticism. They made good on it with nine days to spare. Pebble Partnership and its ownership groups, which have varied over the years, had consistently been faulted for making numerous claims dating back to 2005 that they would soon start the environmental reviews. The permitting process is also seen as one way to eventually provide closure for those on each side of the contentious debate over whether the world-scale mine proposed at the headwaters of a world-scale salmon fishery is appropriate. “For the Pebble team, this day has been a long time in the making and is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work,” Pebble CEO Tom Collier said. “We have listened to our stakeholders, supporters and skeptics, and are presenting a much smaller mine with enhanced environmental safeguards. Since I have been with the project, my main focus has been to initiate the permitting process so that Pebble can be fairly and objectively evaluated by the independent experts hired by the Corp of Engineers.” In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed blocking Pebble based on a larger mine concept outlined in financial disclosure filings by Northern Dynasty. Shortly thereafter Pebble Partnership sued the EPA, claiming the agency’s actions were made on a biased, anti-mine premise and that it illegally colluded with opponents of the project. That suit was settled in May and because the EPA is currently evaluating public comments on whether to lift the proposed determination that would prohibit the project. With a total mine facilities footprint of 5.4 square miles, the new plan is less than half the overall size contemplated by the EPA but still larger than the 4.2-square mile footprint the agency said could be acceptable. In statements issued shortly after Pebble’s announcement, opposition groups said the permit filing changes little, other than renewing determination to stop the project. “It took Pebble Limited Partnership 12 years just to file the paperwork asking the Army Corps to look at this project,” Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. CEO Norm Van Vactor said. “The bar is set very low, indeed, if merely filing an application is cause for celebration. Bristol Bay fishermen file paperwork for their permits every single year, without fanfare. And here in Bristol Bay, we will choose our sustainable commercial fishery that generates thousands of jobs over a short-term development project.” A few days earlier on Dec. 18, Northern Dynasty issued a statement saying it is close to finalizing a deal with fellow Canadian mining firm First Quantum Minerals for investment in Pebble. Northern Dynasty is the sole owner of Pebble after previous partners Anglo American and Rio Tinto walked away from the controversial copper and gold project several years ago. In the case of Anglo American, the company ended its partnership on the project in 2013 after spending $541 million on exploration. Since then, company officials have acknowledged the need for a large investment partner to fund Pebble’s development. Under the terms released of the preliminary deal, First Quantum would contribute $150 million to Pebble over up to six years with a $1.35 billion option to buy a 50 percent stake in the project. In a Dec. 21 interview Collier said he expects to have the partnership finalized by the middle of next year. Collier said his company doesn’t yet have a solid cost estimate for the scaled-back mine plan he unveiled in October, but that would materialize as permitting plays out. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Major Alaska resource projects face crucial year in 2018

The upcoming year will be a telling year for several of Alaska’s prospective development projects, starting with the biggest: the $40 billion-plus Alaska LNG Project. That’s not to say the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. did not produce any accomplishments in 2017. After taking control of the LNG export effort to start the year, AGDC promptly submitted its environmental impact statement application — nearly 60,000 pages of scientific and socioeconomic information — in April. Agency officials believe it to be the largest single EIS filing in the history of the National Environmental Policy Act review process. AGDC leaders have stressed their desire for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to have a final EIS published by the end of the year, with a record of decision following shortly thereafter. Getting the EIS done in the next year would go a long way towards keeping AGDC on schedule for the early 2019 final investment decision that corporation President Keith Meyer says is critical to hitting the available Asian market window for LNG deliveries to start in 2024 or 2025. Meyer and his team point to the size of the filing as evidence of its thoroughness, which should help the federal regulators expedite their evaluation. AGDC officials and Gov. Bill Walker also note the Trump administration’s support of the project and several actions the administration has taken to speed federal permitting for infrastructure development. While FERC is known to process permit applications quicker than most other regulatory agencies, the EIS schedule that AGDC had requested be published by Dec. 15 at the latest still isn’t public; FERC continues asking the corporation for additional information, or follow-up questions, on its application. As a result, it’s still anyone’s guess as to when the first draft EIS, which comes with a 45-day public review and comment period, will be published. Similar timing questions remain on the commercial side of the Alaska LNG Project as well. The highly publicized, touted and critiqued joint development agreement Meyer and Walker signed with three giant Chinese corporations interested in partnering on Alaska LNG Nov. 9 in Beijing calls for the sides to have a framework agreement in place by the end of May 2018. The concept is that AGDC would essentially trade 75 percent of the project’s capacity, up to 20 million tons of LNG per year, to Sinopec in exchange for 75 percent of the project’s financing from the Bank of China and the China Investment Corp. That outline would then be turned into a firm contract in the second half of the year. The nonbinding joint development agreement expires Dec. 31, 2018. Sinopec is one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. It, and the financial firms are nationalized companies owned by the Chinese government. The status of other nonbinding Alaska LNG memorandums of understanding signed in 2017 with Korea Gas Corp., Tokyo Gas Corp. and PetroVietnam Gas Corp. is less clear because AGDC, citing commercial sensitivity, has kept their contents confidential. The Alaska LNG Project will also undoubtedly play a leading role in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Walker will highlight the state’s stewardship of the project — the regulatory achievements and customer interest. If it appears to be moving well his opponents will acknowledge his progress but claim to alternative or cheaper development plans that will return more money for the state. And if the project struggles in the coming months they will call for its stoppage or outright demise, repeating in some form the question: “Why is the state still spending the gasline when BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil decided not to?” To that end, AGDC has not asked for any new state money in fiscal year 2019. The governor’s 2020 state budget proposal will be out on Dec. 15 of next year. Oil projects North Slope production is expected to keep climbing in 2018, with state officials estimating an average of 533,000 barrels per day for the fiscal year that runs through June 30. Additionally, the status of the two biggest oil projects on the North Slope should become clearer in the coming year. Armstrong Energy’s 1.2 billion-plus barrels Nanushuk prospect will be handed over to Australian-based Oil Search, as part of an up to $850 million buyout announced last fall. The companies’ leaders said in an interview following the announcement that the deal is a way to continue expeditious development of Nanushuk, estimated to be upwards of $5 billion, which is too large for the exploration-focused Armstrong to manage. The Army Corps of Engineers released its draft EIS for the project in September and a final evaluation is forthcoming. First oil from Nanushuk is expected in the early 2020s. Similarly, a final EIS is the next big step for the long-discussed Liberty offshore oil project. Designed as a manmade island development in the near shore federal waters of the Beaufort Sea, Hilcorp Energy estimates Liberty could produce up to 70,000 barrels of oil per day, following in the path of other successful North Slope artificial island projects currently in production. Nearby and onshore, Hilcorp is continuing to build out Milne Point, one of the fields it bought into as part of a $1.25 billion deal with BP in 2014. The company recently drilled 10 wells at Milne Point that are just starting to come online, according to Hilcorp Alaska leaders, and plans to start drilling another 50 to 70 wells next fall and try a polymer flood project to ultimately produce between 30 million and 50 million barrels of oil from Milne Point. In Cook Inlet, Hilcorp is also in the midst of spending $75 million to convert a cross-Inlet natural gas pipeline to an oil carrier, a project it plans to finish in about a year, company officials have said. With other requisite work to adjust gas and oil flow on the west side of the Inlet, the project will allow Hilcorp to close the Drift River oil tank farm, which has been a lingering environmental concern to many because of its location at the base of Mt. Redoubt, an active volcano that most recently erupted in 2009 and caused flooding at the facility. The oil transport line will also reduce oil tanker traffic in the Inlet. Mining While each of Pebble Limited Partnership’s activities will continue to dominate headlines, the fate of another massive mine proposal to the north should be known a lot sooner. A final EIS for the Donlin Gold megaproject in the upper Kuskokwim River valley is expected early in 2018. As planned by the company, Donlin would produce about 1.1 million ounces of gold per year over a 27-year mine life for a total of about 33 million ounces of the precious metal. The mine site, on lands owned by The Kuskokwim Corp. and Calista Corp., the area village and regional Native corporations, respectively, would also include a fully lined, 2,300-acre tailings facility to store the processed ore. Support infrastructure would include a 315-mile, 14-inch diameter natural gas pipeline originating on the west side of Cook Inlet needed to supply fuel to the 227-megawatt capacity power plant at the mine site. The pipeline has also been viewed as a first, indirect step to getting lower cost natural gas to numerous villages in Western Alaska that currently rely on fuel oil their primary heat and electricity sources. A 30-mile road would connect the mine to a new barge port on the Kuskokwim. Further down the Kuskokwim, port cargo facilities would be expanded in Bethel, and new diesel storage tanks would be needed Dutch Harbor to supply fuel for equipment at the mine. Regardless of Donlin’s fortunes in permitting, Donlin Gold leaders acknowledge the project is more sensitive to gold prices than even other Alaska prospects simply because of its associated infrastructure costs. Company officials have said the project would not be economic at gold prices of about $1,100 per ounce. Gold currently sells for about $1,280 per ounce in spot trading. On Pebble, 2018 is likely to be largely a wait-and-see year. Folks on all sides of the mine debate will see if Pebble’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, can finalize the framework investment deal it announced with fellow Canadian mining firm First Quantum Minerals. First Quantum said in a release it is doing its due diligence to review the project and its potential investments — $150 million to support permitting or $1.35 billion for 50 percent of Pebble — while Northern Dynasty admits it can’t develop the project itself. On the permitting side, Pebble’s Dec. 22 wetlands fill permit application with the Corps of Engineers, which will trigger an EIS, kicked off what is sure to be a three to five-year, or more, review. Pebble CEO Tom Collier said in an interview that the company believes its thorough background study work means the EIS can be done in three years, but Corps officials note the average EIS time for a project the size of Pebble is four to five years. Pebble would undoubtedly like to get the EIS done before the next presidential election in the event a new administration might try to put more restrictions on development. As for revoking its prior proposed Clean Water Act Section 404(c) prohibition on Pebble, the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the mountains of comments it received on the policy change, spurred by its court settlement with the Pebble Partnership. The EPA’s tally is not yet known, but Pebble opponents claim more than 750,000 comments were submitted in support of stopping the project. What the EPA will do with the proposed reversal of its original proposal is also unknown. The agency could make a political statement and finalize its move to revoke the Obama administration’s proposed mine veto or, since no substantive action was taken against Pebble, simply leave it in limbo and let the permitting process play out. Salmon habitat initiative The Stand for Salmon citizen-driven ballot initiative to significantly tighten the state’s salmon habitat permitting laws is sure to be 2018’s version of Alaska’s omnipresent development versus conservation debate. That is, if the state Supreme Court allows it to be. The state Department of Law, at the behest of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, appealed an October Superior Court ruling to uphold the initiative and that appeal is currently before the Supreme Court. There is no indication as to when the court may or may not hear and rule on the case. Mallott originally rejected the proposed initiative based on Law’s opinion that it would direct state water resources to fish habitat, taking that resource allocation authority away from the Legislature and thus violate the state constitution. The petitioners are currently hustling to gather the roughly 32,000 signatures they need from voters by mid-January to get it on the 2018 ballot while everyone waits to hear from the Supreme Court. If the initiative is upheld in court, it is likely to galvanize Alaska’s development proponent groups, which have already formed their own counter-measure campaign, Stand for Alaska, to raise money to fight the initiative. Opponents contend the proposal, aimed to give the Department of Fish and Game more authority in permitting large projects, would make even many small developments unworkable and cost-prohibitive. Stand for Salmon leaders counter that they are just pushing the reforms requested by the Board of Fish in January 2017 to update the state’s vague and decades-old salmon habitat protection statute. Gov. Bill Walker opposes the initiative, saying its scope is far too broad, and if upheld in court it will be another topic amongst gubernatorial candidates. And even if the petitioners don’t gather the signatures they need in time for the 2018 ballots, that just means it could resurface in 2020 — again, assuming the Supreme Court stays with the lower court ruling. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Pebble Partnership to finally file permit application

The Pebble Limited Partnership has long been criticized for many things, but as of Friday that list will no longer include failure to file for environmental permits. Pebble and its Vancouver-based parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals announced Thursday their plans to file for a Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday, Dec. 22. Northern Dynasty leaders said early in the year they planned to start permitting for the wildly controversial project by the end of the year, a promise that was met with understandable skepticism. They will have made good on it with nine days to spare. Pebble Partnership and its ownership groups, which have varied over the years, had consistently been faulted for making numerous claims dating back to 2005 that they would soon start the environmental reviews. The permitting process is also seen as one way to eventually provide closure for those on each side of the contentious debate over whether the world-scale mine proposed at the headwaters of a world-scale salmon fishery is appropriate. “For the Pebble team, this day has been a long time in the making and is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work,” Pebble CEO Tom Collier said. “We have listened to our stakeholders, supporters and skeptics, and are presenting a much smaller mine with enhanced environmental safeguards. Since I have been with the project, my main focus has been to initiate the permitting process so that Pebble can be fairly and objectively evaluated by the independent experts hired by the Corp of Engineers.” In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed blocking Pebble based on a larger mine concept outlined in financial disclosure filings by Northern Dynasty. Shortly thereafter Pebble Partnership sued the EPA, claiming the agency’s actions were made on a biased, anti-mine premise and that it illegally colluded with opponents of the project. That suit was settled in May and since the EPA is currently evaluating public comments on whether to lift the proposed determination that would prohibit the project. With a total mine facilities footprint of 5.4 square miles, the new plan is less than half the overall size contemplated by the EPA but still larger than the 4.2-square mile footprint the agency said could be acceptable. In statements issued shortly after Pebble’s announcement, opposition groups said the permit filing changes little, other than renewing determination to stop the project. “It took Pebble Limited Partnership 12 years just to file the paperwork asking the Army Corps to look at this project,” Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. CEO Norm Van Vactor said. “The bar is set very low, indeed, if merely filing an application is cause for celebration. Bristol Bay fishermen file paperwork for their permits every single year, without fanfare. And here in Bristol Bay, we will choose our sustainable commercial fishery that generates thousands of jobs over a short-term development project.” Earlier in the week on Tuesday, Northern Dynasty issued a statement saying it is close to finalizing a deal with fellow Canadian mining firm First Quantum Minerals for investment in Pebble. Northern Dynasty is the sole owner of Pebble after previous partners Anglo American and Rio Tinto walked away from the controversial copper and gold project several years ago. In the case of Anglo American, the company ended its partnership on the project in 2013 after spending $541 million on exploration. Since then, company officials have acknowledged the need for a large investment partner to fund Pebble’s development. Under the terms released of the preliminary deal, First Quantum would contribute $150 million to Pebble over up to six years with a $1.35 billion option to buy a 50 percent stake in the project. In a Thursday interview Collier said he expects to have the partnership finalized by the middle of next year. Collier said his company doesn’t yet have a solid cost estimate for the scaled-back mine plan he unveiled in October, but that would materialize as permitting plays out. Alaska Army Corps officials said Thursday that the wetlands fill permit application detailing the types and volumes of fill material the project will use and the area of wetlands it is expected to cover would first be subject to a 15-day completeness review. If the wetlands application is deemed complete the Corps will then issue a public notice saying as much and — given the size of the project — issue a subsequent determination that the project needs to go through the full, multi-year environmental impact statement process. Look for updates to this story in an upcoming issue of the Journal. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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