U.S. Army Corps poised to recommend approval of Alaska's Pebble Mine

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, July 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to give its blessing later this week to an Alaska copper and gold mining project the Obama administration tried to block because of concerns it could harm the state's salmon industry.

A final environmental impact statement (EIS) recommending development of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd's NDM.TO Pebble Mine will be released on Friday, with a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register, Dave Hobbie, regulatory chief for the Army Corps's Alaska District, said in a Monday telephone news conference.

Release of the final EIS would mark a dramatic reversal in a nearly two-decade saga over a project that is widely opposed by Alaskans, especially those in the Bristol Bay region.

Hobbie said the Army Corps will make a final permit decision no earlier than 30 days after the release of the final EIS.

The Pebble Mine would, if brought online, produce 70 million tons of gold, molybdenum and copper ore a year and create a pit 1,970 feet (600 meters) deep. A new road, pipeline and power plant would be built, according to the mine plan.

“All the alternatives would have environmental consequences, you know, damage,” Hobbie said, referring to differing plans for the project. “It is recognized that any option would have damage.”

Former President Barack Obama's administration in 2014 moved to stop the Army Corps from issuing wetlands permits for the mine's construction after a study found it would damage salmon-rich habitats.

President Donald Trump's administration initially seemed opposed to the project as well, but last year lifted Obama-era restrictions, stating the limits were based on hypothetical scenarios different from Northern Dynasty's submitted permit application.

The United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which represents 15 area tribal governments, on Monday repeated its call for officials to block the mine.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; editing by Ernest Scheyder and Tom Brown)

((ernest.scheyder@thomsonreuters.com; Twitter: @ErnestScheyder; +1-713-210-8512; Reuters Messaging: ernest.scheyder.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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