Comment period on Pebble draft EIS opens

Public hearings scheduled in Southwest Alaska, Homer and Anchorage

The draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Pebble mine project is expected to be published in the Federal Register on March 1. It will open up a 90-day public comment period on the lengthy document spelling out potential environmental impacts of such construction.

The draft EIS was prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for determining whether the permit application from the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining group based in Vancouver, British Columbia, meets the environmental requirements spelled out under section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.

The draft EIS was released by the USACE on Feb. 20, prompting outrage from fisheries and environmental entities, while the Pebble Limited Partnership issued a statement saying they saw no significant environmental challenges that would preclude the project from permitting.

“While we have a lot of work remaining in front of us, this is clearly a very exciting time for the project as we have reached a significant milestone for Pebble,” said Tom Collier, chief executive officer for the PLP. “We have stated that the project must co-exist with the important salmon fishery in the region and we believe we will not harm the fish and water resources in Bristol Bay.”

United Tribes of Bristol Bay, the tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments, expressed outrage over what the tribes contend is an inadequate review of the massive mining project.

“The draft EIS has several major flaws, including an inaccurate premise that implies that there is need for mining in Bristol Bay, a lack of analysis of many of the mine’s potential impacts to local communities, and an inadequate review of the project’s risks,” said UTBB executive director Alannah Hurley. “The tribal entity feels that the draft EIS underestimates the risks associated with a catastrophic tailings dam failure, and does not evaluate that risk in perpetuity, even though the tailings dam would remain a constant threat to the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.”

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents some 1,400 gillnetters who fish in Bristol Bay, said the USACE scoping reports were severely lacking and do not address many important concerns raised during the previous public comment period, specifically not recognizing “the virtual certainty of acid mine drainage or how contaminants would be hard to contain given the region’s porous hydrology, in addition to many other shortcomings.”

The Bristol Bay commercial fishery directly employs some 14,800 men and women in Alaska, and the fishery creates an additional 8,600 downstream and secondary jobs, said Any Wink, executive director of the BBRSDA. Thousands of others rely on Bristol Bay salmon for subsistence and sportfishing-related jobs, he said.

“All these stakeholders deserve a reasonable amount of time to understand the draft EIS and submit a public comment about a mining development which could drastically alter the fate of their lives,” he said.

The USACE plans to conduct hearings in Bristol Bay, Homer and Anchorage from March 25 through April 16. The meeting schedule includes Naknek, March 25; Kokhanok, March 26; Newhalen, March 27; Igiugig, March 28; New Stuyahok, March 29; Nondalton, April 8; Dillingham, April 9; Homer, April 11; and Anchorage, April 16. Detailed public meeting scheduling information can be found at  pebbleprojecteis.com/schedule.