Pebble Mine debate continues

In July of 2007 the Pebble Mine Project partnered with Northern Dynasty Minerals with plans to construct and operate a mine.

The site sits in Pebble Valley on the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers, about 238 miles southwest of Anchorage. Exploratory drilling at Pebble West and Pebble East has found that the site is rich in both copper and gold.

If Pebble Mine is allowed to move forward, prices of the metals would sell for roughly $1 per pound of copper, and $400 per ounce of gold.

The UAA debate team met to discuss the Pebble Mine on March 29.

The debate included an open forum between community members, UAA students and a panel of four UAA professors.

Community members included advocates from both sides of the issue: engineers, environmentalists, Bristol Bay locals, Alaskan natives and people from the Anchorage community.

“I think it’s too early to (decide) one way or another,” said Gunnar Knapp, a professor in the Institute of Social and Economic Research. “We don’t know enough about the possible positives or negatives yet.”

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Some concerns brought up included the effect of the mine on water quality and the fishing industry.

Multiple members in the audience voiced that two Bristol Bay rivers are among the highest ranked in the world for fish production, and are considered important for all five types of the rare sockeye salmon.

NDM has stated that their company has a “no net loss” policy for fisheries in the area.

This means that if any fish are lost due to the mining practices, fisheries will be compensated by increasing the productive capacity of some habitats, and by conservation management of large tracts of land.

Pebble West is planned to be an open-pit mine, which means excavations will be made at the surface of the ground in order to extract ore. Pebble East will be an underground-style deposit, and is still open for expansion.

“On average, 40 tons of earth will have to be drilled in order to get one ounce of gold,” said UAA professor Paula Williams.

The Pebble Mine is becoming a major political issue; pro-mining forces such as the Kenai City Council have been arguing with local native villages and commercial sport fishermen.

Sen. Ted Stevens said that he as well as more than 45 Alaska companies are against the Pebble Mine.

“The Pebble prospect is located in the middle of two major river systems,” he said. “They contribute a significant percentage of salmon to Bristol Bay fisheries each year.”

Stevens said he will continue to oppose the project unless he is shown a plan for the mine that demonstrates those fisheries will be protected.

Southeast Alaska has been chosen for the Pebble Mine project because metal prices have increased 50 percent from December 2003 to June 2006, according to a trend chart on Infomine.com. And Tom Crafford, mining coordinator of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said that Bristol Bay has been shown to be rich in ores due to its volcanic history.

“This increase (in prices) due to investments gives development of these ores an ability to make a profit out of mining,” he said. “The Pebble deposit is the largest contained copper deposit in Alaska.”

As estimated by the Mines and Communities website, the total value of Pebble East and West will be between $150 to $200 billion worth of ore.

Alaska’s Clean Water Initiative is the primary hindrance to the Pebble Mine moving forward. It will be on the ballot in August of this year.