December 21, 2017 / 8:27 PM / 9 months ago

Alaska's Pebble Mine project kicks off permitting process

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Dec 21 (Reuters) - The company that wants to build the widely opposed Pebble Mine copper and gold project in salmon-rich southwestern Alaska announced on Thursday that it will file its first application for a development permit.

The application is a milestone for the project, which appeared dead during the Obama administration because of environmental concerns but is now moving forward under the administration of President Donald Trump, which fervently supports increased domestic mining and drilling.

The Pebble Limited Partnership said it will submit an application Friday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a wetlands-fill permit, a key authorization required under the U.S. Clean Water Act.

"For the Pebble team, this day has been a long time in the making and is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work,” Tom Collier, chief executive of the Pebble partnership, said in a statement.

The mine, proposed for more than a decade, targets a vast deposit of copper and other minerals but has been opposed by fishermen, environmentalists and most of the native groups in the region, worried about pollution. Opponents see it as a threat to the Bristol Bay region, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs, which underpin fisheries, indigenous culture and regional wildlife.

The permit application announcement comes three days after the Pebble Limited Partnership announced that it gained a new member, First Quantum Minerals. For four years, the partnership was limited to one small Canadian company, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Northern Dynasty’s previous partner, Anglo American, dropped out of the project in 2013.

“Pebble continues to gain positive momentum, and we will have more progress milestones to announce in 2018,” Ron Thiessen, Northern Dynasty’s president, said in a statement Thursday.

Mine opponents on Thursday vowed to continue their fight.

"The truth and justice is on our side," said Alannah Hurley of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a confederation of native organizations. "This project ... will devastate our water and fisheries."

In a joint statement, native organizations, a commercial fishing spokesman, the environmental group Trout Unlimited and the speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives condemned the mine proposal.

"The vast majority of the people I serve are more resolved than ever in their determination to protect their livelihoods and their way of life," House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said in the statement. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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