JUNEAU, Alaska — The president and CEO of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. said Thursday that he's confident the Canada-based company will find a new partner for the proposed Pebble Mine project within the next year.
Ron Thiessen said the massive gold-and-copper prospect in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska is a world-class asset and that he expects interest from a number of major mining companies. When asked how optimistic he was about finding a new partner and having the project in permitting this time next year, he said: "If I said 100 percent that would be a little less than what I really feel."
Thiessen told The Associated Press about 90 percent of the documentation needed to move into permitting was completed when London-based Anglo American PLC announced in September that it was withdrawing from the project, leaving Northern Dynasty as the sole owner. Since then, the Pebble Limited Partnership, which was created to design, permit and run the mine, has been restructured, he said, with many workers laid off and contracts canceled.
Critics have sought to cast Anglo's departure as a sign the project is in trouble but Thiessen brushed any such suggestions aside. He said the goals now are to finish compiling project data in a reading room that will be made available for prospective partners doing their due diligence, and to finish by February the remaining documentation required to initiate permitting.
He could not say whether Northern Dynasty would move into permitting at that point or wait for a partner; that's expected to be decided closer to that actual time. He said the process of finding a partner could take six to 12 months and will start in earnest soon. He said if it appears the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving to take pre-emptive steps to in any way restrict permitting for the project, the company would probably launch the permitting process on its own without waiting for a partner.
The EPA is studying the impacts of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region, an effort that arose from concerns raised about development near the headwaters of a world-class salmon fishery. In a revised watershed assessment released earlier this year, the EPA found construction of a large-scale mine in the region could have major impacts even without a mishap, including wiping out up to 90 miles of streams and altering stream flows. A final report is pending.
Thiessen said it's a "virtual impossibility" the proposed mine could put the fishery at risk, saying 80 percent of the sockeye are produced in watersheds "we don't touch." He likened warnings of potential major impacts associated with the project, including those laid out in the revised EPA assessment, to the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast that alarmed listeners but "was all fiction."
Thiessen spoke to the AP by phone after a speech at a Resource Development Council conference in Anchorage.