Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pebble Issues

New issues continue to arise related to a proposed massive mining project at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska. A study prepared for The Nature Conservancy by prominent biologists with experience in the Bristol Bay watershed notes that there are wild salmon swimming in streams on the surface of the area where the prospect would be developed.

According to one of the study authors, Carol Ann Woody, who has done years of research in Bristol Bay, the study, released in the past week, is the first to document that wild salmon are present in streams on top of the ore deposit. Woody, a fisheries research scientist based in Anchorage, co-authored the report with Sarah O’Neal, a biologist with the Wild Salmon Center of Portland, Oregon. The pair found salmon in three of every four streams that they surveyed.

Opponents of the Pebble Project are concerned that development of the mine would adversely affect spawning streams and ultimately the overall health of the fishery.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ron Thiessen, president and chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which has a 50 percent investment in the Pebble Project, said it is likely that at some point a major mining company will take over Northern Dynasty, whose principal asset is the Pebble copper-gold-molybdenum deposit and 186 square miles of associated resource lands. The other entity in the Pebble Partnership is Anglo American, which has contributed the bulk of millions of dollars spent on mine exploration to date.

Thiessen said his responsibility, should a bid be made, is to be sure that shareholders get fair value for their shares. Thiessen did not rule out Rio Tinto, which already owns nearly 20 percent of Northern Dynasty, as a potential buyer. Rio Tinto owns and operates the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, which environmental groups charge has polluted local groundwater to the point where it is unhealthy for human consumption.

Thiessen argues that his company respects the Bristol Bay fishery and spawning grounds. He said he remains confident that a mine can be established without damaging the fisheries, but if they can’t demonstrate that the mine won’t damage the fisheries, they won’t get the permits. Northern Dynasty is affiliated with Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified, global mining company also based in Vancouver.

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