Pebble Redux
re·dux:  /rēˈdəks,ˈrēˈdəks/adjective, brought back; revived. Late last year one of Cook Inletkeeper’s keen-eyed Boardmembers sent me an obscure public notice for exploration work around Amakdedori Creek in Kamishak Bay on […]
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re·dux:  /rēˈdəks,ˈrēˈdəks/adjective, brought back; revived.

Late last year one of Cook Inletkeeper’s keen-eyed Boardmembers sent me an obscure public notice for exploration work around Amakdedori Creek in Kamishak Bay on the west side of Lower Cook Inlet.

The project didn’t entail oil and gas exploration, so it was unclear who would be poking around Kamishak Bay, and why.

Pebble’s proposed transportation corridor, showing the gas line coming from Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula.

Then it all became clear:  the Native Village of Pedro Bay had denied Pebble access over it lands further to the north, and in a hasty effort to cobble together a project, Pebble had to find a new alignment for its transportation corridor from the mine site to tidewater in Cook Inlet.

Mt. Augustine volcano sits in the middle of Kamishak Bay. The area is rife with rocks and reefs, making navigation extremely tricky.

So, Pebble chose Amakdedori Creek in Lower Cook Inlet as the location to ship out the ore concentrate from the mine.

This development raised at least a couple concerns. First, and perhaps most disturbingly, it showed the Pebble people didn’t have their act together.  They’d been touting the Pebble Mine – and the transportation corridor through Pedro Bay Native lands out of Iniskin Bay – for over a decade.  Yet they hadn’t even secured legal access to the properties they had relied on in their permit applications, in their public information, and in their representations to investors.

This time, however, the stakes were higher than the past: Pebble had already lost potential investment partners after Rio Tinto, Mitsubishi and Anglo-American abandoned the project, and when Pebble changed its transportation route, it was actively courting First Quantum Minerals (another Canadian mining company) for roughly $150 million to pay for the Pebble permitting process.

Looking north from Amakdedori Creek to the massive cliffs that ring Kamishak Bay.

The fact Pebble chose Amakdedori Creek as ground zero for the mine’s export terminal reveals how desperate the Pebble people were to secure First Quantum’s support.  Pebble needed to show it had some semblance of a mine plan, and it couldn’t let First Quantum know it really didn’t have a viable export plan.

But there’s another problem. In selecting Kamishak Bay for its export terminal, Pebble revealed how little it knows about Alaska, and equally important, how little it cared to understand the radical navigational conditions in the area. Over the past several months, I have talked to dozens of fishermen and mariners familiar with Kamishak Bay, and everyone I spoke to had the same response when told Pebble wants to export ore concentrate from a dock at Amakdedori Creek: it’s impossible.

Mt. Douglas evening alpenglow from the mouth of Amakdedori Creek.

Kamishak Bay is renowned for its harrowing winds, extreme tides, shallow and rocky waters and radical currents.  In fact, there’s a phenomenon called “gap winds” where pressure differentials between Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet funnel through the lowlands in the Alaska Range at Amakdedori and create stifling winds. Holding a giant, deep-draft ore carrier to a dock in these conditions would be challenging. So too would the dredging operation needed to keep a channel open for the bulk carriers.  And even if a large vessel could load in these conditions, it would be virtually impossible to keep it in a narrow, dredged channel leading to and from the dock with the wind blowing and the tides and currents running.

On May 11, 2018, Pebble appeared to concede these facts, because it submitted a revised mine plan which eliminated the dock and the dredged access channel. Instead, Pebble would now use several barges to make dozens of trips from the beach to the ore carrier anchored offshore.  While this option certainly reduced the environmental footprint from the export terminal – because Pebble no longer would have to fill several football fields of wetlands with the dredged spoils from the shipping channel – the fact is the original plan simply could not work due to the radical physical conditions in Kamishak Bay.

Looking south across the beach, storm berm and wetlands at Amakdedori Creek. Pebble would transform this area into an industrialized export facility.

Unfortunately, the revised plan doesn’t pass the red face test either. Last week, Inletkeeper took Tolman skiffs from Homer roughly 85 miles across Cook Inlet to Amakdedori Creek.  Aside from the incredible beauty, something else jumps out the moment you step foot on the beach there.  For the entire length of the beach – stretching roughly two miles – massive drift wood berms line the upper beach. This area is a high-energy beach, with frequent, massive storms with so much power they can push gigantic logs up and over the storm berm.  In other words, there’s no way Pebble can hold, load and launch barges from a beach with 10 foot pounding waves crashing on the beach.

Amakdedori Creek is a shallow salmon stream that requires high tides to access.

Plus, Pebble’s entire transportation plan makes no sense: trucks from the mine site would transport ore to ice breaking barges for transit across Lake Iliamna, then truck to the coast, then load onto barges, then offload to the mothership sitting 12 or more miles offshore.  This is a highly convoluted and expensive transportation option, at a time when Pebble says it has reduced the actual footprint of the area to be mined, so there will be fewer minerals and lower revenues to make the project financially viable.

Standing on the beach at Amakdedori Creek and looking out at Mt. Augustine volcano, I tried to envision an industrial port facility in the area.  Several thoughts crossed my mind. First, any company that invests in Pebble has to have its head examined, because Pebble doesn’t have a serious mine plan. You simply cannot handle your product so many times from the mine mouth to the mothership without incurring extraordinary costs that will defeat any hope of profits. Second, exporting ore from the beaches of Kamishak Bay is a losing proposition.

The skiff ride across Cook Inlet is not to be taken lightly. We looked at the marine weather for 6 weeks before finding a suitable 3-day weather window.

The phenomena known as “fata morgana” creates a mirage when looking long distances through the moisture hugging the Earth’s surface. Here’s a shot of the Barren Islands from Kamishak Bay.

Additionally, the beach at Amakdedori, and the surrounding area, are home to world-class brown bear and salmon populations.  The McNeil River State Wildlife Sanctuary & Refuge, and Katmai National Park are just down the coast.

And finally, the Pebble project proves our permitting system is badly broken, because Pebble doesn’t even have a legitimate mine plan, yet our state and federal agencies continue to shepherd the project through the permitting process as if everything’s fine and dandy. Nothing to see here, move along…

Pebble is a loser for many reasons. But it’s time for the Pebble people to be honest with Alaskans. Because after seeing Amakdedori Creek first-hand, it’s clear Pebble doesn’t know Alaska, and it doesn’t seem to care.