Alaska Department of Natural Resources officials are urging full speed ahead by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in completing the Pebble mine project final environmental impact statement.
“We strongly encourage you to adhere to your defined NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) schedule,” DNR Commissioner Corri Feige said in a recent letter to Col. Phillip Borders, Alaska District Engineer with USACE. “With economic impacts felt at the federal, state and local levels from COVID-19 and the current oil prices, we should be doing everything in our authority and ability to keep projects of statewide importance moving forward.”
Feige told Borders that the Pebble mine project, which lies at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, “is important to Alaskans, as it will provide jobs, infrastructure and revenues critical for local, regional and statewide economies that are being significantly impacted by COVID-19.
“Considering the USACE has completed the required public commenting periods and held several technical meetings with cooperating agencies for the Pebble Mine Project, we believe the USACE has acquired and analyzed ample information on which to base its record of decision,” she said.
The state’s strong support of advancing the mine project comes on the heels of letters to Borders in March from Dillingham based entities representing the Bristol Bay region. The letters urge USACE to relax the timeline for development of the final environmental impact statement and extend the deadline for cooperating agencies to provide comments on the preliminary final EIS.
Given requirements for social distancing offices shut down or minimally staffed, challenges of teleworking and impacts of trying to contain the COVID-19 virus, extensions of these timelines are absolutely necessary, they told Borders. Those comments from top officials representing tribal, environmental, economic and fishermen’s interests in the Bristol Bay region were also sent to Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska.
The Curyung Tribal Council in Dillingham separately wrote to top USACE officials, urging “relief from grossly unreasonable deadlines established by the Alaska District of the Corps related to the proposed Pebble mine.”
These deadlines are hampering our ability to fulfill responsibilities we have to protect our tribal members and the Bristol Bay community from the threat of the pandemic, the Curyung Tribal Council said.
The Alaska District’s timeframe has prevented Curyung from providing its full input on the preliminary final EIS “and we suspect has impacted the ability of other cooperating agencies to do so as well, given that they have highest priority pandemic related roles and responsibilities as well,” said First Chief Tom Tilden and tribal administrator Courtenay Carty.
Borders response came in a letter of March 31 to Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which acknowledged the letter from Bristol Bay entities seeking to relax the timelines because of the pandemic.
Borders said that the Alaska District of the USACE remained fully operational, was aware of the COVID-19 pandemic as a fluid situation and would continue to make the most up to date project information and updates available. He also confirmed that the timeline to submit comments was still March 30.