Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are urging suspension of the environmental impact statement process on the proposed Pebble mine, because of the uniqueness of the Bristol Bay region.
“The Bristol Bay region is unique,” they said, in a letter on June 29 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
“Alaska is a resource-rich state, and our prosperity depends on our ability to safely and efficiently bring those resources to market,” they said.
While their administration will continue to champion efforts to do that, including drilling for oil in the 1002 region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, expanding the Fort Knox mine, or building a natural gas pipe, “the Bristol Bay region is unique,” they said.
“It supports the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world – supplying almost half of the global wild sockeye and sustaining over 10,000 jobs. For many communities in the region, abundant salmon runs, clean water, and ecologically intact landscapes provide more than a paycheck, they sustain a treasured way of life that has existed for generations,” they said.
Walker and Mallott also said in a related statement issued on June 30, the day after their letter went to the Corps of Engineers, that their administration believes that the review “should not advance now because Pebble has not demonstrated to Alaskans that the proposed mine is feasible and realistic. Without a preliminary economic assessment, the corps would be unable to thoroughly vet alternative plans of development,” they said.
Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership, fired back that the 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 that the PLP finds it “incredibly disappointing that the governor’s request to suspend the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process is nearly identical to that brought forward by the anti-Alaska, anti-development Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It is this type of behavior that makes many in the global investment community reluctant to invest in Alaska,” he said.
He added that the PLP feels its technical and environmental work can meet the state’s standards for development and in doing so can put thousands of people to work.
In their 23-page letter to the corps, Walker and Mallott noted that beyond the mine itself, the PLP’s plan called for construction and operation of a port and associated infrastructure that has the potential to adversely impact coastal wildlife and marine mammals. Construction, dredging and port operations area likely to impact shoreline habits, intertidal and offshore resources, they said. The mine plan also includes construction of a natural gas pipeline from the eastern to the western shore of Lower Cook Inlet, with a subsea section spanning Cook Inlet expected to be about 94 miles long, then along the road corridor out to the mine site. That portion of the project falls almost entirely within the Lower Cook Inlet management area for salmon and herring species and entirely within the Cook Inlet management area for groundfish and shellfish species, they said.
The gas pipeline route also traverses roughly through the center of the historical Kamishak Bay Tanner crab fishing grounds, they said. While the area is currently closed due to low abundance, undisturbed habitats of Kamishak Bay can support similar levels of productivity in the future as environmental conditions shift to those experienced during periods of high abundance.