North of 60 Mining News - The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Pebble Partnership copper gold molybdenum mine project Alaska Northern Dynasty NAK NDM

By Sarah Hurst
For Mining News 

Pebble project good fit for global group

Hunter Dickinson's chairman promises his team has the expertise to develop the massive copper-gold property in southwest Alaska


Last updated 6/25/2006 at Noon

Alaska's Resource Development Council members were treated to three different perspectives on the Pebble project at their annual meeting in Anchorage June 13. Several hundred people had a rare chance to hear in person from the chairman of Vancouver-based Hunter Dickinson, the group that owns Northern Dynasty and several other mining companies. Bob Dickinson usually relies on Northern Dynasty COO Bruce Jenkins and Environmental Project Manager Ella Ede to get the message across within the state. After Dickinson's presentation, two prominent locals had their say.

The thrust of Dickinson's talk was likely aimed at those who have doubts about Northern Dynasty's credentials as a junior mining company with no track record. He showed slides of mining projects by other Hunter Dickinson companies that are active in different parts of the world. The seven companies in the group cover the entire spectrum of projects, from grassroots exploration to major mine development, Dickinson said.

The companies have a combined value of $1.4 billion, according to Dickinson. "Our people have the skills across the entire gamut that is necessary for success in the mineral exploration and development business," he said.

In South Africa, Hunter Dickinson subsidiary Anooraq Resources - in partnership with Anglo Platinum - hopes to build a platinum mine at the Boikgantsho property, and also to develop the Ga-Phasha platinum property. In China, Hunter Dickinson's Continental Minerals is exploring the Xietongmen property, which, like Pebble, is a copper-gold porphyry deposit.

Xietongmen is in Tibet, where expatriate non-governmental organizations associated with the Dalai Lama generally oppose industrial development, Dickinson said. However, Hunter Dickinson has made an arrangement with some of these NGOs for them to monitor the project. "I can tell you, this is a brand-new way of doing business in this part of the world," Dickinson said.

$62 million expansion at B.C. mine

Since 2004, Hunter Dickinson's subsidiary Taseko Mines has operated the 35,000 tonne-per-day open pit Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine in south-central British Columbia. After 27 years of operations at Gibraltar, the company that previously owned the mine wanted to shut it down and reclaim the site, partly due to a decline in copper prices in the late 1990s. Taseko took it over, refurbished it and brought it back into production after a hiatus instead of doing reclamation, continuing to employ 250 people. The company recently announced a $62 million expansion of the mine.

"This mine is five miles away from the Fraser River, which is Canada's largest sockeye salmon run," Dickinson said. "This mine has been operating for 28 years. It has no impact on the Fraser River run," he added. Salmon fishing has always been a major part of the Bristol Bay area economy in southwest Alaska, where the Pebble deposit is located, and concerns about the potential impacts on fish are among the top priorities for Northern Dynasty as well as local residents.

"One of the common threads between the Hunter Dickinson-operated companies is that we work very hard to be good neighbors in any particular region that we're in," Dickinson said. "All of our companies practice responsible mineral development. All of our companies practice strategies to impact as positively as possible local people in the region, for example we always practice strategies of local hire, local purchase."

A growing movement to nationalize resources in some countries, such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Indonesia and Peru, makes it all the more crucial for the United States to look inwards to secure commodities of strategic value, Dickinson believes. Copper production is in decline in the United States, he said, and the Pebble deposit could have strategic importance to the country.

BBNC: position neutral

For the past couple of years, since Northern Dynasty ramped up its exploration efforts at Pebble and made a series of announcements about increased resources at the property, there has been a heated public debate in Alaska about whether such a large mine should be built in the ecologically sensitive area. Some communities in the Bristol Bay area and newly formed environmental organizations have expressed strong opposition to the mine, but other groups are taking a wait-and-see approach. One of these is Bristol Bay Native Corp., which owns land adjacent to Pebble: the deposit itself is on state land.

The Bristol Bay region expands across 34 million acres, but the population of brown bears outnumbers the people, Jason Metrokin, a vice president of Bristol Bay Native Corp., told the RDC meeting. The local economy needs diversification, as the main employer currently is the government, he said. The Yup'ik, Aleut and Athabascans who live in the region supplement their incomes from regular jobs with subsistence hunting and fishing, which is also an important part of their culture.

"BBNC has a long history of supporting regional development," Metrokin said. "It would be irresponsible of us to indicate support or opposition for a project that has not yet been defined. Therefore BBNC's position on the Pebble project is currently neutral." Northern Dynasty has not yet presented its mine plan or announced which mining major it will partner with to develop Pebble, and these are just some of the unknowns that will have to be clarified before BBNC takes a position for or against the mine, Metrokin said.

Borough: listening to the facts

Glen Alsworth, mayor of the Lake and Peninsula Borough, which includes the Pebble deposit, has already come under fire from environmentalists for suggesting that he and other business-owners in the area might benefit economically from the mine if it is developed. Alsworth, who runs an air taxi service, pointed out in his address to RDC that technology is continually improving in the mining industry as well as the aviation industry. "We recognize that in the past there's been many dismal failures, and you know what, we should be smarter and better today," Alsworth said.

When Alsworth's father learned to fly in the 1920s, every third take-off resulted in a forced landing. "We have a better system because somebody paid the price and somebody learned the lesson, and that's what the past can teach us," Alsworth said. The mine permitting process is designed to protect the public and the environment from three things: politicians, greedy developers and general ignorance about the issues, he continued. By going through the rigorous process, everyone has the opportunity to become educated enough to make a rational decision.

"We are listening to the facts. We're engaged in the debate," Alsworth said. "We're committed to the ongoing extensive process that a proposal of this magnitude warrants. We're confident that the existing quality standards are adequate to protect our waters and our wildlife, and every aspect will be scrutinized exhaustively in the federal and state process. We're waiting to evaluate the proposal. You can rest assured though, that this borough, we won't trade our pristine waters and our naturally healthy fish for a mine or any other development."


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