ANCHORAGE - A partnership pushing development of a huge copper and gold mine near some of the world's best wild salmon and trout streams has hired away a top state official.
The Pebble Partnership announced Monday that Ken Taylor, a deputy commissioner at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is going to work for them. Taylor will be the partnership's vice president for the environment. He begins his new job Aug. 1.
The Pebble Mine is a world-class copper and gold deposit located near the headwaters of Bristol Bay about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is situated near the most productive wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The area also is known for its superb trout fishing and high-end fishing lodges.
Proponents say developing the mine will bring jobs and economic prosperity, while opponents say it could ruin the fisheries and taint Alaska's reputation for producing untainted fish.
During his more than 30-year career with the state, Taylor spent 10 years as an area biologist in the Bristol Bay region.
"Ultimately, I wouldn't have accepted this position if I didn't believe in the Pebble Partnership's commitment to go beyond mere compliance with regulation to develop a project that sets new standards for environmental performance in Alaska," Taylor said in a statement.
Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively said when he was the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources he worked closely with Taylor and was impressed with his talents both as a manager and a scientist. Shively joined the partnership last April.
Shively said he can think of no one better "to take on the considerable environmental challenges" facing the project.
"At the Pebble Partnership, we've said that 'fish come first,' and we won't pursue development of this project if it places Alaska's fisheries and wildlife at risk. Ken shares that commitment, and it will be his first responsibility - providing senior leadership to our environmental, technical and engineering teams - to help design a project that achieves that goal," Shively said in a statement.
Taylor has served as a Fish and Game deputy commissioner since February 2007. He also was director of the agency's Habitat and Restoration Division from 1999 to 2001 and was a deputy director of the Wildlife Conservation Division from 1995 to 1999.
Terry Hoefferle, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of eight Native village corporations in Bristol Bay, said the mining industry has never been able to operate a sulfide mine that did not damage the environment, in some cases killing "every fish for hundreds and hundreds of miles downstream."
The mine and the huge earthen dams that will be needed to store rock waste are in an earthquake prone area, he said. Even very small increases of copper in water can be damaging to salmon, Hoefferle said.
"Ultimately, it will be a disaster," he said, of Pebble.
The Pebble Partnership is a 50-50 venture between Anglo American PLC and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the companies hoping to develop Pebble. The value of the minerals has been estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars.