Longtime Alaskan joins Pebble Project
Developers of mammoth Southwest Alaska undertaking look to John Wood's frontier mining expertise in managing infrastructure
Last updated 2/24/2008 at Noon
When Anglo American plc. CEO Cynthia Carroll spoke to Alaska business leaders during a visit to Anchorage in October she vowed that the partnership between her company and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. would recruit first in Alaska before looking elsewhere to find professionals to manage, run and work their massive Pebble Project.
The Pebble Partnership didn't have to look far. John Wood fits the bill perfectly. Not only does Wood offer more than 35 years in civil and mining engineering achievements across the state, but his entire career has been spent in Alaska.
Residents before statehood
Wood's family made its way to the Alaska Territory in 1958, settling on a homestead at Big Lake about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Living in rural Alaska beyond the road system and without the comforts of electricity or running water, young Wood experienced a true Alaska subsistence lifestyle.
He finished high school in Anchorage and attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, graduating in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in mining engineering.
Wood took his degree and went to work as mining engineer for Usibelli Coal Mine. When Mining News asked Wood what he did at Usibelli, he said, "I was the engineer, blaster, permitter - pretty much everything."
While moose hunting with a partner in 1972, Wood discovered Two Bull Ridge, a coal deposit that Usibelli is currently mining. To make a long story short, Wood and his hunting buddy each bagged huge bulls. Two years later, when he returned to the area with a drill, Wood confirmed the coal deposit's presence.
"That fall, when I was laying out the drill results on paper and computing preliminary resources, I came up with the name, Two Bull Ridge, - home of massive moose and massive coal reserves," Wood recalled. "Much to my amusement, the name stuck."
During his time at Usibelli, Wood went back to school for a year and earned a master's degree in mineral industry management.
"Skillfully" avoiding work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline project, Wood said he moved to Anchorage to seek fame and fortune in the booming construction industry. During the ensuing 14 years, he gained extensive experience in civil engineering and management working on various projects.
Wood joins "the dark side"
In 1989 Wood left the private sector for a government job or as he jokingly refers to it, "the dark side."
Whether it was the brutally cold and dark winters of Fairbanks or the significant cut in pay that enticed him, we may never know. But Wood accepted the offer to head up the State of Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water's Fairbanks office where he stayed until 1992.
That year, he went to work as a project manager for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. Two of the most notable mining-related projects that he oversaw at AIDEA were the Delong Mountain Regional Transportation System and the Skagway Ore Terminal.
The DMTS consists of a 52-mile-long haul road and a deepwater port that connects Red Dog, the world's largest zinc mine, to the marketplace. Much of the initial construction of the DMTS was complete when John started, but he managed the maintenance and upgrades of the facility for 15 years.
The Skagway Ore Terminal was built in 1968 to accommodate miners shipping zinc ores from Canada's Yukon Territory. AIDEA bought the terminal in 1990 and launched a major upgrade of the facility. Wood proved instrumental in the terminal opening last fall to provide storage and ship-loading services to Sherwood Copper Corp. for copper ore produced at the Minto Mine in Yukon.
Ideal background for Pebble challenges
Wood's experience in engineering and managing large civil and mining projects in remote Alaska locations makes him an ideal candidate for infrastructure manager at the Pebble Project, according to The Pebble Partnership.
Pebble is located about 100 miles from the nearest suitable place to establish a deepwater port, and nearly 200 miles away from the nearest electrical generation facility.
Stephen Hodgson, who heads the engineering team for the Pebble Project, told Mining News that Wood's many years of experience in engineering in Alaska, including the Delong Mountain project, will be important to the team's effort moving forward.
"He knows the infrastructure business, he knows the mining business, and he knows a lot of people in the state. He is a good choice to help us manage that part of the work in Alaska," Hodgson said.
Three infrastructure issues - deepwater port, road access and power supply - need to be addressed in a pre-feasibility study for Pebble.
Infrastructure planning involves local communities
Proponents of the Pebble Project say the infrastructure needed to support its development will benefit local communities in the Bristol Bay region. A port and a road will provide the region with transportation alternatives and in many cases, less expensive means of bringing commodities into the region. A power transmission line could supply more affordable power in the area.
"From a Pebble perspective, it is important that the infrastructure we install for the project addresses the concerns and aspirations of the people that live there," Hodgson said.
The infrastructure-planning process for Pebble will involve the local communities and state agencies such as the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, he said. A preferred port site and road corridor already has emerged that could serve the needs of the project and Bristol Bay communities.
Partnership promises thorough approach
The proposed road would stretch about 104 miles east from the mine to a possible deepwater port at Iniskin Bay on the western edge of Cook Inlet. Planners have already mapped out a basic route for the road, and the Pebble Partnership plans to work with local residents to ensure that it meets their needs and offers a safe and reliable corridor for the proposed mine. Pebble's developers envision transporting ore, as slurry, to tidewater via pipelines that parallel the road.
Getting power to Pebble is an important challenge for the project. The proposed mine will need a 250-megawatt power supply and possibly more electricity if the Pebble partnership decides to mine the giant deposit underground.
Pebble's managers have begun work with Homer Electric Co. across the inlet to develop a power supply plan for the mine. Among several options being studied are wind power and other forms of renewable energy to supplement a power supply generated by coal or diesel. This would reduce carbon emissions and Pebble's environmental footprint.
Much of the challenge of Wood's job will be ensuring that when various consultants hammer out primary infrastructure engineering for Pebble's prefeasibility study, the needs and concerns of the local communities are incorporated into the final design.
Wood said the Pebble Partnership will be "stepping back and taking a fresh look" at infrastructure needs for the project, and a "no stone left unturned approach will be taken" when addressing those needs.