Pebble Mine trial over permits begins

Posted: Tuesday, December 07, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A lawyer for companies seeking to mine in southwest Alaska used a core sample, large maps and photos to show Monday that exploration of the area had been carefully conducted with high regard for the environment.

Matthew Singer, attorney for the Pebble Partnership, described the Pebble Mine site as likely the most studied land in Alaska, and said a massive amount of environmental data has been collected there.

The area is at the center of a lawsuit brought by eight Bristol Bay village corporations over state-issued exploratory permits for the huge copper, gold and molybdenum deposit near some of the world's most productive wild salmon streams.

Bore holes have been drilled at the site to delineate the deposit.

The village corporations want to stop its development, arguing that exploratory permits for Pebble Mine violate the state constitution because they were issued without providing public notice, or any findings on impacts the drilling would have on natural resources, including three watersheds. The corporations are known collectively as Nunamta Aulukestai.

Lawyers for the state and the Pebble Partnership, which represents mining companies Anglo American and Northern Dynasty, said they would show that the environmental damage being alleged from drilling over 1,000 bore holes has not occurred.

The village corporations' lawsuit was filed in July 2009 sought to have the court void the permits. Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled this summer that the constitutional concerns should be heard at trial, which began Monday.

Singer said he planned to call experts to testify about data from 44 water quality checkpoints, 23 groundwater monitoring wells and more than 500 water seeps, to show that "water quality has not been impaired by exploration."

Vicki Clark, a lawyer with the Trustees For Alaska, said plaintiffs will question those experts, as well as calling 20 or more witnesses of their own during the two-week trial.

One of those witnesses could be Bella Hammond, widow of former Gov. Jay Hammond who lives at the family homestead in Lake Clark, near the mine site.

Bobby Andrew, spokesman for Nunamta Aulukestai, declined to comment Monday. He has said that subsistence users know that exploration at Pebble is having a serious impact on the water, wildlife, and fish in the area.

Clark said people in the area already are feeling the effects.

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