Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 6:06 PM on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pebble CEO to Juneau audience: Wait for plan before protesting

By Mary Catharine Martin

JUNEAU — If you're going to protest, wait until there's at least a plan to protest, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively said recently in a presentation on the proposed Pebble Mine at a Rotary Club of Juneau meeting.

"I don't know that we can do the project (Pebble Mine.) I don't have a project right now to present to the public that I can say meets the high environmental standards that I know we have to meet, and is economic — the two challenges that we have.

"But really what I would ask for, and I think it's reasonable, is that people wait to see that we do have that plan, and whether or not that plan works," Shively told the group.

Shively's presentation served as a counterpoint to Pebble Mine opponent Bob Gillam's presentation to the club on the dangers of the mine about two weeks earlier.

Shively launched immediately into the allegations that have been made against the project with a clip of an advertisement sponsored by Alaska Wild Salmon Protection Inc., an organization supported by Gillam.

Shively called some of the statements made in the advertisement — such as that Alaska has "no standards" and that Pebble could dig up to 50 miles of salmon streams — "an absolute outrage."

He pointed to all the state and federal agencies from which the mine would have to obtain permits before it could be approved.

"Alaska has some of the highest standards in the world," he said. "We do not lack for standards. We could not rip up 50 miles of salmon stream if we felt like it. How do you combat that, because the opposition does not have to tell the truth."

Shively said Pebble Limited Partnership, a partnership between Northern Dynasty headquartered in Vancouver, and Anglo American US, a subsidiary of Anglo American PLC headquartered in London, has spent well over $100 million on environmental studies thus far and will be spending much more before it has a plan for the area.

What is known, however, is that the mine would be large, with about 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum.

The project as a whole is a multi-billion dollar investment even without the infrastructure Pebble would have to build, Shively said.

He said the company would have to build an 80-mile road and a pipeline that would carry concentrate from the mine in a slurry that would be piped to the port. Another pipeline would pump water removed from the slurry back to the mine.

Shively also said as part of infrastructure development, the company could end up as an industrial participant in an energy solution for Southcentral Alaska.

As far as economic figures, Shively said the mine is "a world class prospect" with a possible life of 80 to 100 years or maybe more, though Pebble would only permit 20 to 40 years worth. It would create between 2,000 and 3,000 construction jobs for 3-4 years each, 1,000 operating jobs, and state and local taxes, he said.

The mine is on state land.

In his presentation earlier this month, Gillam said the mine would endanger the thousands of fishing jobs in Bristol Bay. He also pointed out that the Bristol Bay Native Corporation voted against Pebble Mine, something Shively acknowledged. Shively said, however, that village corporations close to the project questioned the vote.

"It is a region that has a big fishing background. It's a very important fishery to the state, and a lot of people on the BBNC board have very close relationships to the commercial fishing industry. It was a disappointment, but not a total surprise," he said.

Asked by an audience member if the opposition is "winning the fight for hearts and minds," Shively said the opposition is "well ahead of us" in the region, but "the vast majority of people" statewide think the company has the right to go through the permitting phase.

Several Rotary Club members said he had a point.

"I thought he gave a very reasoned approach. As he said, he's not asking for much. He's just asking to get a fair hearing in the permitting process. I don't think that's unreasonable at all," said Win Gruening.

Shively said the mine could be in permitting sometime earlier next year, but the project's complexity means "we're going to get there when we get there."

Permitting is expected to take three to seven years; the mine likely will spend some time in courts; and construction is expected to take around three more years, he said.

Shively, now the CEO of Pebble Partnership, worked for NANA Regional Corp. for almost 20 years and played a role in the development of the Red Dog Mine, the world's largest zinc mine.

He also has worked in several other positions with the Alaska Native community and was the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources from 1995 until 2000.

Pebble's Web site is www.pebblepartnership.com.

Mary Catharine Martin is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.