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Corps to reconsider permit rejection for proposed Pebble mine

A digital simulation of what the proposed Pebble Mine’s foundation would look like, if federal authorities allow it.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
A digital simulation of what the proposed Pebble Mine’s foundation would look like, if federal authorities allow it.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will reconsider its decision denying a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine.

In 2020, the Army Corps rejected Pebble’s application for a large open-pit gold and copper mine upstream from Bristol Bay. But now the company has partially won its administrative appeal of that decision.

The announcement suggests that one barrier to the controversial mine is not as solid as opponents had hoped.

In an 81-page ruling Tuesday afternoon, the agency’s reviewing officers conclude the Alaska District made a few mistakes, particularly in how it dealt with the possibility of a catastrophic failure of a dam that would contain waste rock from the mining operation. The permit denial was in part based on the potential damage to fish and water quality in the event of a catastrophic dam breach, even though the Army Corps concluded a catastrophic event isn’t “reasonably foreseeable.”

“My decision to remand the permit application denial back to the Alaska District is not a permit authorization,” Gen. Kirk Gibbs, the commander of the Pacific Ocean Division, said in an emailed statement. “The District has been asked to re-evaluate specific issues in the administrative record to ensure that the decision is well-supported.”

Pebble faces other obstacles, beyond the Corps permit. Earlier this year the Environmental Protection Agency, at the urging of tribes and others that fish the salmon-rich waters of Bristol Bay, concluded the mine was incompatible with the Clean Water Act. The EPA decision effectively vetoed any proposal to develop the Pebble deposit that would have a similar impact on the same rivers.

The Corps’ administrative ruling sends the permit application back to the Alaska District for reconsideration of particular aspects.

There was no immediate response from the Pebble Partnership, which has been pursuing the project for more than two decades.

This story is from Alaska Public Media, our partner station in Anchorage.