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Lawmakers: Large-scale mining can be done right

Posted: February 12, 2014 - 11:29pm

JUNEAU — Several state lawmakers — including the Senate president and House speaker — have told the owner of the proposed Pebble Mine that they believe large-scale mining “can be done right” in Alaska.

In a letter to Ron Thiessen, president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the legislators say Alaska is open to safe and responsible development.

“We appreciate the project team’s approach in making ongoing investments in environmental science and engineering studies prior to initiating permitting to ensure that any project at Pebble can co-exist with clean water, healthy fisheries and traditional ways of life,” the legislators wrote in the letter, dated Feb. 3 and released Wednesday.

“As elected leaders of the State of Alaska, we want you to know that Alaska is open to investment from those who seek to develop our state’s natural resources safely and responsibly, and in a manner that respects and benefits its citizens and our country for generations to come,” they wrote.

The massive gold-and-copper prospect is near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery in southwest Alaska. The letter comes as critics of the mine urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to act to protect the watershed. EPA, in a recent report, found large-scaling mining in the region posed significant risks to salmon.

The letter was signed by Senate President Charlie Huggins, Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, and Sens. Cathy Giessel and Kevin Meyer. Giessel chairs the Senate Resources Committee, and Meyer is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

The letter also was signed by House Speaker Mike Chenault, and Reps. Eric Feige, Craig Johnson and Dan Saddler. Feige and Saddler are co-chairs of the House Resources Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Hollis French said those lawmakers do not speak for the full Legislature. He said there is deep division in opinion on Pebble.

French, D-Anchorage, said many Alaskans support other mine projects around the state but believe Pebble is “too dangerous a proposition to support.” He said he would be an “enthusiastic yes vote” on a ballot initiative that would require legislative approval for a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation in the Bristol Bay region. French had proposed legislation similar to that a few years ago that went nowhere.

In a release, Saddler said Alaska has the resources to be a world leader in mineral development, “but we’ve seen the integrity of our permitting system unfairly maligned during public debate on Pebble.”

“It is important for state leaders to express our confidence in mining as a way to bring Alaskans jobs, revenue and economic diversity,” said Saddler, R-Eagle River. “This letter makes it very clear that Alaska supports and welcomes responsible resource development.”

Feige, R-Chickaloon, said Alaskans “are smart enough to do projects like this right. Let’s work together and find a way to make that happen.”

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