DNR renews Pebble’s state land use permit, announces Bristol Bay Advisory Group

Apr 24, 2018

The Department of Natural Resources renewed Pebble's Miscellaneous Land Use Permit for one year, authorizing the partnership to begin geotechnical drilling. On the same day it renewed Pebble's permit, DNR also announced that it will revive the Bristol Bay Advisory Group, a group of regional stakeholders who provide input on land use and management.

The Alaska Department of Natural resources made two announcements last week related to mining in Bristol Bay.

First, the state renewed Pebble Limited Partnership’s land use permit for its mineral claims northwest of Iliamna.

For the first time in five years, the state is authorizing new exploration at the deposit. It is also authorizing geotechnical drilling, which Pebble spokesperson, Mike Heatwole, said will be the main focus of the work program this year.

“We are drilling to determine more for our engineering studies, for mine planning, depth to bedrock and the rock and ground characterization for where we would plan to put proposed facilities for our mine plan,” said Heatwole.

The one-year Miscellaneous Land Use Permit will allow Pebble to drill up to 80 boreholes to collect information for development planning and resource modeling. The permit also authorizes reclamation activities.

When DNR granted Pebble’s previous land use permit last year, the department received more than 2000 public comments on the application. Many asked for more oversight of Pebble’s operations on state mining claims. In response, DNR stipulated that the partnership close 142 boreholes and added a $2 million bonding requirement for site cleanup.

Commissioner Andy Mack said that DNR also ramped up site inspections.

“Last year we went and specifically inspected, I believe the number is more than 250 well sites… What we asked them to do in the permit, most of that, a vast majority of that, was completed,” said Mack.

Specifically, DNR said that Pebble has complied in closing the boreholes and conducted some remediation. The state will continue to inspect the site this year, and Pebble will again be required to put up a $2 million bond.

Pebble intends to begin activity at the beginning of May and continue through the end of December.

The second announcement from DNR last week is that it will reestablish the Bristol Bay Advisory Group.

The group was originally formed to provide input on the 1984 Bristol Bay Area Plan. That plan designated primary uses and management guidelines for state lands within Bristol Bay, including management of mineral development in the area. When the plan was revised again in 2005 and 2013, the DNR did not include the group in the decision making process.

Mack called DNR’s decision not to incorporate a Bristol Bay Advisory Group in the 2005 and 2013 revisions “a weakness in the current system.”

“We felt, and I believe, that it is really important that people in any district of the state of Alaska, and in particular this district, have a strong voice in the decisions that we make, that they are in connection with their state government and that, when there’s land use designations and specific management plans on the table, that those people that are impacted by those decisions can have input,” Mack said.

The DNR’s decision to reestablish the BBAG comes as a response to a November letter from five stakeholder organizations, including Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Nunamnta Aulukestai, Bristol Bay Native Association, and Bristol Bay Native Corporation. The November letter asked for a reexamination of the Bristol Bay Area Plan and a reinstatement of an regional advisory group.

DNR said that it anticipates the advisory group will review and may recommend changes to the BBAP.

Nunamta Aulukestai, a coalition of Bristol Bay Alaska Native Village Corporations and tribes opposed to the Pebble Mine project, applauded DNR’s decision to gather more local input on land use and management. Executive director Myrtice Evalt called the announcement “a very good decision,” saying that her organization will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss specific areas of land management it hopes the BBAG will address.

In a press release, Governor Bill Walker also praised the DNR both for issuing a state land use permit to Pebble and for taking steps to recreate the BBAG.

“The Department of Natural Resources’ issuance of a one-year exploration permit maintains robust oversight of the Pebble Limited Partnership as the company conducts reclamation, monitoring, and exploration activities. The reinstatement of the Bristol Bay Advisory Group gives local residents a powerful tool to guide land and resource management in their region. These actions ensure good stewardship of the land while creating a forum for local voices to be heard loud and clear,” said Walker.

DNR will hold a public meeting in the Bristol Bay region to gather input on the size and scope of the advisory group. Members of the group will be selected through an application process.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.