State agency reinstates Pebble mine permits

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Permits have been reinstated allowing Pebble Limited Partnership to continue exploring copper and gold deposits in southwest Alaska, the state Department of Natural Resources said Friday.

But the partnership still needs permission from the state's Department of Fish and Game to work in fish habitat in order to begin drilling again this year.

The two state agencies suspended Pebble's land, water-use and fish-habitat permits after learning that the companies had taken water from 45 unauthorized stream segments, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Pebble officials said they reported the violations to state regulators last fall after discovering the violations.

In February, the state and Pebble settled the violations for $45,000.

The company agreed to submit a new plan showing how it would follow rules for withdrawing water. The plan also includes hiring a compliance officer and starting a training program for Pebble's field staff.

Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said Friday that the partnership will work with the state to get the permits needed to continue exploring.

"This will be good news for folks in the region who are eager to work," he added.

He said the partnership, which includes London-based Anglo American and British Columbia-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, plans to drill at Pebble between May and September.

Regulators from several agencies will inspect the 45 locations this year to determine if any environmental damage resulted from Pebble's unauthorized water use, DNR officials said.

Pebble said in February that the violations happened because workers mistakenly believed they could withdraw water from boundaries set by the state Fish and Game permits. The DNR permits allowed more limited water use.

The Pebble project involves mineral exploration of a large copper and gold deposit on state-owned land in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Some Native organizations have claimed in a pending state Superior Court case that the state exploration permits granted to Pebble are illegal.



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