Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pebble Mine Backers Cut Staff, Suspend and Cancel Contracts

The Pebble Limited Partnership is seeking a new partner to fill the gap left after Anglo-American PLC bailed out of the multi-million dollar mining investment in Southwest Alaska, but meanwhile is trimming its list of staff and contracts.

Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said Oct. 7 the partnership has laid off an undisclosed number of its approximately 70 employees, with a severance package provided by Anglo American, and also temporarily suspended or cancelled some of several dozen contracts.

“We are still getting our arms around what the go forward work program will be for the rest of 2013 and 2014,” Heatwole said. Some environmental studies, primarily water work, is continuing, and as long as the partnership has folks out in the field, they will be providing necessary support services, he said.

With the London-based international diversified mining firm out of the picture, Northern Dynasty Minerals, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining group, is talking with other companies about joining the partnership, Heatwole said. Meanwhile, Northern Dynasty has stated that they have the resources to advance the project, albeit at a slower pace than earlier planned.
Heatwole said the PLP is looking at all its programming objectives for 2013 and hasn’t made any decision yet on its schedule for applying for mining permits.

“We are reevaluating everything,” he said. “We will have a smaller work force going forward.”

Before announcing plans to abandon the effort to develop the copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska, Anglo American had invested some $541 million in the project. Northern Dynasty has also invested some $180 million in exploration.

Heatwole said that given the skills of Anchorage staff he felt many of them would be hired by other companies, but he was concerned about employment prospects for those in the Bristol Bay region.

The mine has an estimated value of billions of dollars, and mine proponents say it would help boost the region’s economy, bringing in jobs and tax dollars. The majority of Bristol Bay residents, whose economy is based on the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery, oppose the mine, because they feel it would adversely affect salmon spawning habitat in the Kvichak and Nushagak river systems.

At the request of several Alaska Native tribal groups the Environmental Protection Agency has for more than two years been assessing the potential impact of the massive mine project on the Bristol Bay fisheries environment. The EPA is now in the process of finalizing that report.

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