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ANCHORAGE - The estimated cost of building the massive Pebble copper and gold mine has hit $6 billion, making it one of the most expensive projects proposed for Alaska.
It's still not clear whether Pebble makes financial sense to develop, according to mining industry officials. While the copper and gold deposit is one of the world's richest, the ore is mainly low grade, meaning that most of the rock dug up would be waste material.
Anglo American and the smaller Northern Dynasty Minerals are assessing the site.
The companies have spent $25 million this year drilling test holes and studying the environment, among other activities.
Pebble also faces strong opposition from many fishing groups, environmentalists, sport lodge owners as well as some Native organizations and villages in Southwest Alaska who are worried that the mine will harm the region's world-class salmon fisheries.
Pebble is 15 miles from Nondalton in the headwaters of two of the five rivers that feed Bristol Bay's salmon runs. The bay lays claim to the world's biggest sockeye fishery and its tributaries a top destination for sportfishermen seeking rainbow trout.
The Pebble Partnership, the outfit Anglo and Northern Dynasty formed to advance the project, has not yet finished a preliminary design for the mine.
"We're well short of going to financing at this point," said John Shively, the Pebble Partnership's president.
The partnership plans to finish the preliminary design by the middle of next year and seek state and federal permission to build Pebble by late 2009 or early 2010, he said.