State OKs permits for Pogo gold mine

Mine near Delta Junction could produce up to 5.6 million ounces of gold

Posted: Friday, December 19, 2003

JUNEAU - State regulators have issued all the permits needed for operators to begin work on the Pogo Mine near Delta Junction.

Once federal permits are issued early next year, the consortium of companies proposing the $250 million mine would then decide whether to move forward.

The Pogo Mine site is about 38 miles northeast of Delta Junction in the upper Goodpaster River valley.

The project promises to create about 360 jobs in the area while the mining activities pursue an estimated 5.6 million ounces of gold.

While the project isn't expected to be a boost to state or local revenues, Gov. Frank Murkowski lauded it as a potential boon for the economy of rural Alaska.

"We are sort of basking in the glow. Things are sure good," said Pete Hallgren, Delta Junction city administrator.

Delta Junction has about 1,100 residents and four times that many living in the unincorporated area around it, Hallgren said.

The town was once threatened by base closure at Fort Greely but experienced a resurgence when the missile defense project was located there.

"We certainly don't want (the town) to become a thriving metropolis - most of the people in Delta Junction like it the way it is, but we've got more room for people," Hallgren said.

Construction on the mine is expected to take two years and employ about 700 people, the state said Thursday. The mine is expected to operate for at least 11 years and employ more than 300.

Residents of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the region around Delta would make up most of the work force, Hallgren said.

The state Department of Natural Resources issued the necessary permits for the project Thursday.

Federal action from the U.S. Corps of Engineers is expected this month. The Environmental Protection Agency is also expected to issue the final permit in February.

"They operate a little slower than I would like down there. But I have no reason to believe these permits will not be forthcoming," Murkowski said Thursday.

Construction on a winter road and preliminary surveying and site preparation is expected to begin immediately, Teck-Pogo officials said.

Eventually, a 50-mile all season road from the Richardson Highway will be constructed and utilities would be extended to the site, said spokesman Karl Hanneman.

The road would be constructed by the companies proposing to operate the mine, said Murkowski press secretary John Manly.

Murkowski administration officials have touted the mine as one piece in the governor's plan to spark natural resources activity in Alaska to aid its economy.

To underscore that point, Murkowski personally delivered a 1,200-page federal Environmental Impact Statement to one of the mining companies involved in the project during a trade mission to Japan and Asia.

The mine is a joint venture between Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., SC Minerals Inc., and Teck Cominco.

Exploration in the area began in 1991 and the first hole to indicate a substantial find was made three years later, Hanneman said. The companies began seeking the necessary permits to move the project forward in August 2000, he said.

Corps spokeswoman Pat Richardson said her agency is nearing completion on a wetlands fill permit but would not estimate when it would be completed. An official with the EPA could not be reached for comment.

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