Kodiak fishermen and their supporters demonstrated in front of the Kodiak Best Western Hotel on Friday, March 29, 2019, where ComFish was under way, demanding support from Alaska’s congressional delegation to stop permitting of the proposed Pebble Mine. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

A decision to deny a key permit needed to develop a major copper, gold and molybdenum mine abutting the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska was issued last week in Anchorage by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). 

The public notice released by District Commander Jeff Palazzini said that a technical evaluation of the administrative appeal decision by the Pebble Limited Partnership in light of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) veto of the permit had occurred. Following that a decision was rendered that the EPA veto is a controlling factor and the application was denied without prejudice, the USACE said. 

“This decision is reflective of a thorough analysis regarding all applicable laws and regulations that guide the USACE appeal process,” Palazzini said. “We are committed to maintaining and restoring the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions.” 

The Pebble Limited Partnership appealed the 2020 permit denial to USACE’s Pacific Ocean Division. In April 2023, it was determined that specific elements of the appeal had merit and the 2020 permit decision was remanded back to the Alaska District for reconsideration, additional evaluation and documentation.  

The district was further instructed to evaluate the EPA’s veto to determine how it would proceed with its reconsideration of issues found to have merit. USACE’s appeal remand decision confirms that the EPA’s determination is a controlling factor that cannot be changed by a USACE decision maker and the application is denied without prejudice, regardless of any review of the issues found to have merit. 

Northern Dynasty Minerals, in Vancouver, Canada, owner of the subsidiary Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), the entity seeking to build the mine, said the company is reviewing the USACE decision and evaluating its next steps. It is worth noting that the USACE decision is without prejudice and not based on the merits of the many technical issues raised in our appeal, the Canadian mining company said. 


“This decision by the USACE exposes the fatal vulnerability of EPA’s veto of the Pebble project,” said Ron Thiessen, CEO of Northern Dynasty.  

“The USACE itself, during its own administrative review process, avoided affirming its permit denial, ordering instead a remand to address some of the erroneous findings which are then relied upon by the EPA in its veto,” said Thiessen. “This is because a number of these critical findings were contradicted by the administrative record.” 

The conservation entity Trout Unlimited applauded the USACE decision, saying the permit was denied because the proposed mine would cause significant degradation to Bristol Bay’s headwaters and was against the public interest. The watershed is home to the world’s largest run of millions of wild sockeye salmon. The millions of fish who return annually to Bristol Bay provide for an abundant harvest for commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters, thousands of jobs in fisheries and other industries that serve them, as well as sustenance for an abundance of area wildlife. 

Nelli Williams, Alaska program director of Trout Unlimited, said the Pebble Limited Partnerships 2020 mine plan didn’t meet basic standards, was widely opposed by Alaskans, and posed significant risks.  

“The hunting and angling community, and leaders from across the political spectrum, widely applauded the permit denial in 2020 and we commend the Army Corps of Engineers for standing by its permit denial decision,” Williams said. “We look forward to the next chapter for Bristol Bay: establishing permanent safeguards for the region so that we don’t have to keep fighting projects that compromise the area’s jobs and incredible fish and wildlife in the future.” 

Meanwhile the state of Alaska and PLP are continuing litigation in an effort to overturn the region’s Clean Water Act safeguards in court. “If the PLP seeks litigation over this permit denial, Trout Unlimited is committed to defending Bristol Bay on behalf of the thousands of anglers, hunters and recreational outdoor businesses who rely on its world class fisheries,” she said. 

Northern Dynasty meanwhile remains committed to removing the EPA veto, either through federal government action or through its existing legal proceedings in conjunction with the state of Alaska, Thiessen said. “Once the veto is cleared, it opens the way for us to re-engage with the USACE. Northern Dynasty’s principal asset, owned through the PLP, is a 100% interest in a contiguous block of 1,840 mineral claims in Southwest Alaska, including the Pebble deposit,” he said.