Pebble mine developers weigh profits, concerns

Posted: Sunday, April 03, 2005

That riches await entrepreneurs willing to excavate tons of earth to extract its ores has supported the dreams of miners since humans first learned to burn coal and smelt metals.

For Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the Canadian company proposing to build the largest open pit mine in North America just northwest of Iliamna, a chance to realize that dream has required not only a huge investment and the cooperation of state and federal agencies, but also the supreme confidence needed to gamble that profits will outstrip expenses.

If "them thar hills" hold a king's ransom in gold, copper, silver, molybdenum and other metals, so is there enormous risk to the environment, the economy and the lifestyles of the residents living in communities within the Bristol Bay watershed surrounding Northern Dynasty's Pebble Mine site.

Indeed, the potential negative impacts of that gamble reach far beyond any threat of commercial failure facing the company itself.

On the flip side, mine development promises more than 1,000 direct mine jobs, a sizable boost to the economies of the Lake and Peninsula and Kenai Peninsula boroughs and the Anchorage Bowl and added revenue to the state of Alaska.

Yet even as those promises are being made, local and state officials must contemplate a host of ramifications the mine project will produce.

For instance, at least one legislative committee is reviewing state mine tax law to determine if they need revision.

On Friday through next Sunday, the Bristol Bay Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks will hold a three-day conference in Iliamna on the Pebble project entitled "Land and Renewable Resources Conference II."

The conference, however, is actually a class, and attendance will be limited severely because of space. According to campus Director Debi McLean-Nelson, the community teen center can only hold 90, and there are 63 students expected to attend.

She said that Saturday the conference moves to the elementary school, which can accommodate more, but not many more people. Once capacity is reached, no more people will be admitted, she said.

Over the course of this week leading up to the start of the conference, the Peninsula Clarion will explore promises and potential impacts of the mine and investigate many of the questions being raised by those whose lives it likely would affect.

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