Pebble project permit application changes spark outrage

USACE says no additional public comment to be taken changed document

A decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider without additional public input recent changes in a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application for the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska is sparking controversy anew.

Word spread after the USACE affirmed during a Sept. 17 media teleconference that there would be no additional public comment taken on 10 changes the Pebble Limited Partnership made to that application via a memo to the Corps.

Bristol Bay residents opposed to the copper, gold and molybdenum mine proposed on the edge of the Bristol Bay watershed called on the Corps to suspend permitting for the project due to what they cite as drastic changes in the mine plan.

Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Association on Sept. 17 called for a halt in what they termed “this rushed permitting process for Pebble’s toxic project at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery.”

According to Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, these changes are simply “environmental enhancements undertaken in response to agency and public input and will have the effect of reducing the project’s overall footprint, its impact on wetlands and waters of the U.S. and otherwise improve its environmental performance.”

Heatwole said these changes would address public concerns regarding infrastructure near the mouth of Upper Talarik Creek and reduce or further mitigate impacts to specific anadromous waters and associated habitat. He described the changes as minor modifications, adding that that “bottom line is that all of these are environmental enhancements to the project and are part of the iterative permitting process.”

Mine opponents note that these proposed changes include a new transportation route, new locations for major water treatment infrastructure at the mine site and a new location for water used in mine operations to be discharged.

 “These project changes only reinforce that the Pebble Partnership was not prepared to go into permitting and the Corps should not have accepted their incomplete application in the first place,” said Norm Van Vactor, chief operating officer of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

 “Not only is it clear that Pebble cannot safely coexist with our fisheries and way of life, but it is also clear that political collusion is pushing Pebble forward at record speeds, with no regard for the science and facts that we were long-promised would be used to assess this project,” Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

“Allowing for changes to be made over and over, basically behind closed doors further erodes my trust in the Army Corps of Engineers to make a responsible and science based decision in a process that has been demonstrated over and over to fail the public’s trust,” said Lindsey Bloom, a veteran salmon harvester with Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.