USACE selects new access road for Pebble project

Native entities along proposed route say they will not allow use of their lands

Federal officials working toward completion of a final environmental impact statement for the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska have selected a new 86-mile access route on ground that they say is the least environmentally damaging.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision announced on Friday, May 22, drew quick praise from the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, a subsidiary of the diversified global mining group Hunter Dickinson Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia.

It’s good news that the project is proceeding on schedule, said Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the PLP.

“We expect to see the issuance of the final environmental impact statement in the next few weeks followed by the record of decision for the project,” he said.

Opponents of the proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed criticized the newly proposed route.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Igiugig Village Council, Pedro Bay Village Council made it clear that they would not make their lands along that route available for portions of the 86-mile two lane access road.

The new route would transverse BBNC surface and subsurface lands, including at its eastern terminus that sits on property jointly owned by subsidiaries of BBNC and Igiugig Village Council, BBNC said. Both entities told the Corps and PLP that these lands are not and will not be available to accommodate Pebble mine.

BBNC noted that the permitting process has revealed that the northern route is the only one feasible to accommodate the 78-year mine plan that would mine a significantly larger portion of the Pebble deposit, with a significantly larger footprint. A major change this late in the process is yet another sign of PLP’s willingness to take “something modest and conservative into the permitting process” in order to obtain the permits for what will ultimately become a much larger mine, BBNC said.

“It is unacceptable for PLP to make such a significant change in its plans after the completion of the preliminary final environmental impact statement,” said Daniel Cheyette, vice president of lands and natural resources for BBNC.

“There are numerous problems with the northern transportation route,” Cheyette said. “It has not been vetted and scrutinized by both the public and cooperating agencies on the same level as other transportation routes. It crosses lands that are not and will not be available for the purpose of building Pebble mine.”

After learning of the likely change of transportation corridor plans, BBNC had sent a letter to the Corps reiterating that PLP does not and will not have permission to access its lands. BBNC also asked the Corps to remove from consideration any plan that would rely on BBNC surface and subsurface estates.

According to Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the PLP in Anchorage, the Corps asked the PLP to submit a project description for the new route, identified as Alternative 3, and the PLP simply complied, and plans to apply for a permit for that new route.

“We intend to work with each of the landowners along the northern corridor,” he said. “We believe we will be able to gain the right of way needed to build the transportation corridor.”

Christina Salmon, a board member of the Igiugig Village Council and environmental manager for Iliaska Environmental LLC, an IVC subsidiary, said that Pebble has never reached out to the IVC to try to negotiate an agreement. The IVC is planning, through a partnership with BBNC, to establish a rock quarry, with large rock for sale for shoreline protection and breakwaters, she said.

“The Corps can permit a fantasy mine, but today’s announcement just proves this toxic project has no basis in reality,” said Keith Jones, president of Pedro Bay Village Council. “We will never trade our salmon for gold. Our tribal council has been opposed to this toxic project for years.”

The northern transportation route just doesn’t add up, as major landowners have already and continue to say Pebble is not and will not be allowed to use their property, he said.

“The only acceptable alternative is the no action alternative, meaning no mine and no permit,” said Robert Heyano, a veteran Bristol Bay salmon fisherman and president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “The permitting process to date has failed Bristol Bay. Throughout the environmental review, state and federal agencies have found severe deficiencies in Pebble’s plan and the Corps analysis of Pebble’s impacts. It is clear the Army Corps has no intent of conducting an adequate review and the project should be vetoed by the EPA.”