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Pebble Partnership: ready to permit as early as FY 13

27,000-page study of mine area presented at legislative lunch

Posted: February 17, 2012 - 1:07am

Ken Taylor, vice president of environment for the Pebble Limited Partnership spoke to a room full of people at the House Resources Committee meeting Thursday at noon.

Taylor announced the partnership would have a plan detailing the size and scope of the project about a years time. When asked why a plan should be expected now after nearly a decade of exploration, speculation and shifts in ownership, Taylor said the partnership understands the particulars of the project well enough now “that very little is expected to change in the final project,” Taylor said.

However, Taylor couldn’t give any assurances that some plan would pop out at the end of 12 months. The partnership would like to release a draft before making a decision to get public reaction on a real project description, he said.

“We’ve been sitting on the fence,” Taylor said, adding the partnership had trouble defending a project of which it didn’t know the shape.

However, now “we’re so close to knowing that, any change now would be relatively minor,” he said.

The release of a plan will give proponents and opponents a first chance to discuss a real project plan. So far, state officials have been unable to comment on the Pebble project, stating a plan does not yet exist. And opponents of the mine have so far only been able to attack certain proposed items the partnership has discussed in communications with investors and state and federal regulators, not an overall proposal. Those individual items may or may not end up being part of the comprehensive Pebble plan.

Taylor also spoke on Pebble’s recently released 27,000-page environmental baseline study. The report detailed the physical, biological and cultural landscape of the area around the potential Pebble Mine area, Taylor said. The study was detailed enough to allow Pebble to fine tune its discharge to the particular stream pH and temperature and to eventually, Taylor said, reconstruct entire salmon streams.

Taylor told his audience at the Capitol that the partnership was a good steward and practiced successful reclamation of its test wells.

“I think we are really proud of the fact that during exploration we have really worked hard to protect that environment. You’d be hard pressed to find any of the thousand holes that were drilled out there,” Taylor said.

However, a member of the audience, life-long Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and organizer for conservation group Trout Unlimited Katherine Carscallen, confronted Taylor with photos dated from the fall of 2011 showing an artesian well that she said has been running since 2009.

“We had problems with one drill site out there,” Taylor said. “I can’t tell you the details … but sometimes when you drill, you drill into an artesian area. And sometimes that water comes to the surface. It took a while to get it controlled. But I believe if you went out there now you wouldn’t see that.”

“That site was reclaimed in 2009,” Carscallen said, “so this is two years later and that’s what it looks like now.”

Taylor said the well may be fixed by now and that all development has impacts.

House Resources Committee Member Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, asked about the estimated 4,000-foot-deep lake that would be left behind, particularly the potential for leaching heavy metals into the Bristol Bay watershed.

“I can stand here and tell you that it’s not going to leach in 10 years,” Taylor said, “but 10 years is a snapshot in time. It will eventually.”

This will require a deliberate approach to reclamation, Taylor said.

“You don’t want to end up 500 years from now and you have acid going down a stream and making a productive stream unproductive,” he said.

Taylor envisioned striating the lake depths with different pH levels to filter different toxic pollutants.

“And we are working on that closure plan right now,” he said.

“Does that mean we won’t be treating water in perpetuity?” Taylor asked. “I’m not going to say that, that could well be true,” Taylor said.

The Pebble mine is the new normal globally, he said, large mines with low-grade ore. 

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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