Mine opponent tackles myths

Group questions Pebble, other regional mining practices

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is it too soon to judge Northern Dynasty’s Pebble Mine project?

When Sean Magee, vice president of public affairs for Northern Dynasty, spoke in Homer last month about the proposed mine, he asked for a fair hearing. Don’t form an opinion until Northern Dynasty finishes its studies, drafts its final plan and files for state and federal permits, he said.

Tuesday night, Scott Brennan, a speaker for the Renewable Resources Coalition — the main organization opposing the Pebble Mine project — challenged that position with an audience participation exercise. He asked the group of about 60 people at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center if they had formed an opinion about oil and gas development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or building a natural gas pipeline. Most of the people raised their hands.

“We know more about Pebble than these projects,” Brennan said. “Shame on all of you for jumping to conclusions.”

In a 40-minute presentation with some of the flash and humor of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” — the former vice president’s documentary on global warming — Brennan, chief operating officer for the RCC, countered what he called the myths about Pebble.

Northern Dynasty has been exploring a rich deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum north of Iliamna Lake, and proposes to build a world-class mine. It has spent $50 million in environmental studies.

In one slide, Brennan used a Google Earth aerial photograph of the Pebble Project area to show the scale of a proposed open pit mine, tailings lake and retaining dam. The illustration shows the dam dwarfing a to-scale illustration of the Seattle Space Needle, Fenway Park and the Hoover Dam. Another illustration shows the tailings lake and mine pit area superimposed over the Anchorage bowl, covering much of Spenard, Mountain View and the Hillside.

The Pebble Project is in the Takarik Creek and Koktuli River area — “the heart of Alaska’s wild salmon country,” Brennan said.

One myth Brennan busted is that the Renewable Resources Coalition is a group of radical environmentalists. Not so, he said. Its 220 members include commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen and seafood processors.

He mentioned board members like Art Hackney, who ran Congressman Don Young’s re-election campaign.

“Three-fifths of the board are self-described ‘old fat Republicans,’” Brennan said.

Brennan said Northern Dynasty wouldn’t pay the maximum benefit compared to fishing. Commercial fishing in Bristol Bay brought $95 million in recent years and created 6,300 jobs — “a potential economic engine that could operate forever,” he said.

Compared to the oil and gas industry that pays taxes of 20 percent of market value, mining pays 0.7 percent, Brennan said.

“If this resource was buried in your backyard and someone came knocking at your door, what might you want to sell it for?” he asked.

Much of his talk focused on permitting. Northern Dynasty says it won’t file for permits until 2008 at the earliest. A rigorous permitting process will make sure the Pebble Mine doesn’t do environmental harm, Northern Dynasty has said.

“We’re from the government, trust us, everything is going to be OK,” is how Brennan put it.

He said changes to environmental regulations under former Gov. Frank Murkowski loosened permits. In other U.S. mines, there’s been a disconnect how effective miners said permits would be and the actual effect.

Brennan mentioned a recent study by Jim Kuipers and Ann Maest analyzing water quality permits. Their study showed 100 percent of mines predicted compliance with water quality standards before operation, but that 76 percent of mines exceeded standards and mitigation measures at 64 percent of the mines failed.

“Am I kind of scaring you by reading the fine print on the aspirin bottle?” Brennan asked.

Brennan urged the audience to take action not just against the Pebble Project, but other potential large-scale mines in the region.

“Pebble is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “If it was a question of one mine or no mines, there might be less opposition.”

For more information on the Renewable Resources Coalition, visit the Web at www.renewableresourcescoalition.org. Northern Dynasty Minerals had information at www.ndmpebblemine.com.

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