A final federal review published on Friday, July 24, finds that the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska would not cause long-term adverse environmental impact to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.
The report was hailed by Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining conglomerate based in Vancouver, British Columbia, as one of the most significant milestones to date in a battle to develop a copper, gold and molybdenum mine in the Bristol Bay watershed of Southwest Alaska.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which compiled the report and published it in the Federal Register, noted that the final environmental impact statement is not a permit decision and does not authorize operation of the mine. “The Corps is responsible for making a permit decision under two authorities — Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act; neither of these authorities permit the mine plan of operation,” the Corps said in a statement. “A record of decision will be written identifying the Corps’ final permit decision no sooner than 30 days from the date of this notice.”
The final EIS has triggered massive criticism from numerous opponents of the mine, from commercial, sport and subsistence fishing interests to numerous conservation entities.
The proposed project includes construction of an open-pit mine and associated ore processing facilities, an 82-mile road from the mine to a port facilities, a port facility near Diamond Point, a 164-mile natural gas pipeline originating on the Kenai Peninsula and extending across Cook Inlet to the port facility a 164-mile fiber-optic cable paralleling the natural gas pipeline and more, none of which is even under construction.
The final EIS shows over 191 miles of streams and 4,614 acres of wetlands that would be impacted if phase one of the proposed mine advances, with 185 miles and 3,841 acres facing permanent impacts, noted Trout Unlimited.
A joint statement issued by Ralph Anderson, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association; Norm Van Vactor, CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Association; executive director Alannah Hurley of United Tribes of Bristol Bay and director Katherine Carscallen of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, said that the final EIS completely failed to adequately assess the impacts of the proposed mine on Bristol Bay’s waters, salmon and people.
“Not only has the Corps ignored the voices of Bristol Bay but also the concerns from major state and federal scientific agencies and a congressional directive to address the concerns with the major pitfalls in the assessment,” they said.
“With a wink and an under the table handshake, Pebble is asking the U.S. Army Corps to issue a foot-in-the-door permit for a fake mine that is only a fraction of the one it intends to build,” said SalmonState executive director Tim Bristol. “The majority of Alaskans hate it, it will face broad and deep public opposition, congressional scrutiny, legal opposition, and a steadily- growing number of investors not interested in environmentally destructive and socially disruptive projects like Pebble.”
Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association, said that the final EIS has done nothing to alleviate concerns about the risk the mine would post to the Bristol Bay watershed, salmon, the way of life and economy of the region’s residents. The mine transportation route approved in the final EIS would use BBNC lands despite the Alaska Native regional corporation’s specific refusal to allow such use, he said.
The Igiugig Village Council also reiterated that its lands at Diamond Point would remain unavailable for use in developing the northern route for the mine. IVC is the owner of Iliaska Environmental LLC, the majority owner and operator of the Diamond Rock Quarry, a critical component in the North Road alternative deemed by the Corps of Engineers, as the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative in the final EIS.
“Their insistence on pushing this impractical route forward, which is reliant on lands not open to Pebble development, disrespectfully ignores our Tribal sovereignty. IVC is committed to the sustainability and health of future generations and Pebble does not fit into our vision for a thriving future,” the tribal entity said.
Former Alaska State Senate President Rick Halford, who has worked with all the Bristol Bay groups opposed to the mine, cited the Pebble project as “a political organization on life support without substance.”
“They would have to invest millions of dollars for years before they can get anything back. The politics can’t be relied on to protect it long enough to ever make a profit and the investment community knows that,” Halford said.
The proposed mine also was blasted by Dennis McLerran, former Region 10 director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who said the Corps’ conclusion regarding impacts on fisheries from the proposed mine “is counter to the input EPA received from the world’s best fisheries scientists.”
“Experts from the American Fisheries Society and from the University of Washington, who have evaluated Bristol Bay fisheries for decades, have commented “There is still a very long path ahead,” McLerran said. “There are questions about its financial viability. Some major questions.”