Gov. Bill Walker wants to press pause on the controversial Pebble Mine project in Southwest, Alaska. The proposed project would lie within the Bristol Bay Watershed, home to the world's largest wild salmon fishery.

Pebble Limited Partnership is seeking federal permits on a smaller mine proposal, about half the size of the one it began pursuing more than a decade ago. 

But in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers on Friday, Walker urged suspension of a critical piece of that process -- the environmental impact statement -- calling for proof of a "feasible and realistic" project first. 

"This is something that we’ve looked at very carefully, and we feel like even the project proponents are unsure of the size of this project," said Andy Mack, Commissioner of the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources. "It’s impossible at this point I think for an agency, we believe to really credibly understand what’s going on when just a month ago, the size of the project was actually changed. And it was made larger within the parameters of the scoping period which is designed to start talking about what the parameters of a project might be."

Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for Pebble, said the company made a ‘modest’ increase in mining rate on the project, during the Corp’s scoping period for the environmental impact study, but calls modifications ‘de minimis’ to the mine’s overall footprint.                                

"We wouldn't support the project unless we were absolutely sure that it can be done in a manner that would have zero impacts on the fisheries today," Mack said. "This is an area which is simply unique, and what we see across the state -- where we see oil activity, where we see other mines, where we see other fisheries -- this conflict doesn't exist. But we see Bristol Bay is a very special place. Fifty million fish returned to that district last year. It's a miracle of nature, and it's something worth protecting."

In a press release this weekend, Walker said there were too many unanswered questions for the review to advance further. Mack says some of those questions include who will fund the project and whether it's economically feasible. The administration is calling for a preliminary economic assessment.

Heatwole says the company is working on such a report. 

“We have many, many things that are in the works and that's one of them. We haven't put a timeline on that,” Heatwole said on Saturday. “We're working on the timeline that makes the most sense for our project.”

Pebble's CEO Tim Collier notes that the company has a legal right to advance the project through the permitting process.

“We know that that vast majority of Alaskans, regardless of their views about our project, support the rule of law and a fair process for reviewing Pebble. The Governor of Alaska should believe in this process too," Collier said in a statement Saturday. 

"We expect this type of stall tactic from ENGOs opposed to any kind of development but not from the Governor of Alaska and especially when the project is on Alaska land. Frankly, the governor does not make a compelling case to suspend the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process," Collier added.

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