New analysis commissioned by Bristol Bay fishermen contends that plans for the Pebble mine project and environmental review do not adequately account for seismic risks on the proposed mine site, putting the fishery and regional communities and cultures as risk for devastation.
With the U.S Army Corps of Engineers expected to release its record of decision on a critical permit application for the mine in mid-July, concerns remain with fishermen and others opposed to the mine abutting the Bristol Bay watershed over seismic and other risks outlined in the report produced by Lynker Technologies, in Boulder, Colo.
The report by Lynker’s team of scientists and engineers, released on Monday, June 29, found numerous problems with the seismic work conducted for the proposed mine, which would be at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. Lynker cited the use of obsolete studies, seismic models no longer accepted by the scientific community failure to collect information about seismic activity at the mine site and an underestimation of the project’s risks.
The study shows that Pebble’s environmental review is completely inadequate, and that the Corps of Engineers is failing to take a thorough look at the impact the mine could have on the Bristol Bay fishery and all it sustains, according to the Bristol Bay Reserve Association, which commissioned the study and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.
Bristol Bay Reserve (BBR) is a fishermen-owned association, which provides marine insurance to commercial fishing vessel owners operating in the Bristol Bay driftnet fishery. BBR is primarily an owner-operated organization. The BBR (psvoa.com/bbr) has over 300-member vessel owners. The BBRSDA’s focus is on advancing the quality and market success of Bristol Bay salmon and ensuring the long-term success of the fishery.
Backers of the mine, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson, a private group of mining companies in Vancouver, British Columbia, contend that the mine can be built and operate in harmony with the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon.
“The point is that the cooperating agencies’ views on Pebble, and how the process is being managed by the Corps of Engineers, are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive,” said Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership, in a commentary published on Monday, June 29 in the Anchorage Daily News. “The reality is that these agencies have raised a number of constructive criticisms of the draft EIS published by the Corps in early 2019. The Corps of Engineers has engaged those agencies through multiple rounds of technical and other meetings in a process more transparent than any that has preceded it in Alaska.”
Collier said that the Pebble Partnership is looking forward to publication of the final EIS and record of decision for the project and that the project will then initiate state permitting.
“Just because some do not like the conclusions the agencies are reaching that Pebble’s development can be done without harm to the Bristol Bay fishery does not mean the work is not sound or proper,” he said.
Spokespersons for commercial fishermen now beginning the harvest of the famed Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery strongly disagree with Collier.
“All along we have expected the Army Corps to do its job and follow NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and the permitting process and do the robust and objective analysis we were promised,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the BBRSDA. “This is just another example of how we have seen this fall short. We would hope that Congress would step in and exercise their oversite, which is their role when federal agencies aren’t following the rules. We need members of Congress from both parties to step up and do the right thing for our generation and all generations to come.”
That’s just what Rep. Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure did in his letter of June 29 to Lt. Gen, Todd T. Semonite, chief of engineers and commanding general of the Corps. DeFazio asked Semonite to extend the schedule before any final action is taken on the proposed Clean Water Act permit for the Pebble mine until the Corps completely and meaningfully consults with all affected tribal interests associated with the proposed mine permit.
To date, said Wink, the Corps has not conducted the rigorous process they were promised.
“We are talking about one of the largest gold and copper mines at the foothills of one of the world’s largest salmon fisheries. It deserves not to have any question marks going into it,” he said.
Wink noted that the failed Mount Polley mine’s dam in British Columbia was designed by the same firm that designed the dam for the Pebble project.
“What happens if the Pebble dam fails?” Wink asked. “Lynker looked at 30 dam failures of this sort and calculated how much material came out of them and you come away with a pretty direct correlation: the bigger the dam the more that comes out. Because of the size of that dam it would release 10 times the amount of toxic material as Mount Polley.”
“This study outlines the use of outdated data and accepting plans that aren’t up to modern standards,” said Robert Heyano, president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “This is unacceptable and a clear violation of the federal government’s responsibility to vet this project. Our elected leaders need to hold the Corps accountable and push the agency to conduct a supplemental EIS.”