Corps’ final EIS on Pebble mine draws criticism from Native leadership

BBNA: USACE did not take tribal concerns on proposed Pebble seriously

Regional and tribal Alaska Native leaders say that the final environmental impact statement on the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska shows that their concerns about the potential impact of the mine on the Bristol Bay watershed were not taken seriously.

According to Ralph Andersen, president and chief executive officer of Bristol Bay Native Association, the Army Corps of Engineers failed to take a hard look at the damage the mine will do to Bristol Bay, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon, and that the mine would destroy thousands of acres of wetlands that nurture the fish.

“It remains clear the Corps didn’t take seriously the concerns from state, federal and tribal cooperating agencies, the public or Congress, as the document remains virtually the same as early drafts of the EIS, dangerously underestimating and ignoring the devastating impacts Pebble would have on our region,” Andersen said during a teleconferenced panel discussion on Monday, July 27.
“We will continue to use every tool available, from Congress to the courts, to protect our way of life” Andersen said. “There will be no compromise and we will never stop. We were here long before Pebble and we will be here long after Pebble is gone.”

Andersen’s criticism of the final EIS on which a crucial permit for the mine hinges was echoed by George Alexie, president of the Nondalton Tribal Council, who called the final EIS “a product of deceit and underhanded tactics by a federal agency more interested in pleasing a Canadian mining company than listening to our local people.

“From the start the Corps did everything they possibly could to keep tribes and local people out of this process,” Alexie said. “At first they denied our request to be a cooperating agency.
“Over the course of the permitting process, everything was done to keep our input to a minimum. In meetings about our cultural resources, the Corps staff openly argued with our tribal elders about the locations and importance of places our people consider religiously significant.”

“What the lack of this feasibility study [for Pebble] says, in addition to looking at the economics of the mine, it basically says we don’t have a realistic mine scenario,” said Dave Chambers, president of the Center for Science in Public Participation, in Bozeman, MT. “[Pebble] is not a mine scenario that makes engineering sense. And because this is an unrealistic mine scenario, it’s led to some serious omissions of potential impacts in the EIS.”

The model proposed by the Trump administration, with a two-year timeline, does not allow for science-based analysis; it only allows for as much science as can be done in the time allowed,

he said.

The final EIS was also critiqued by Rich Borden of Midgard Environmental Services, former head of environment for Rio Tinto’s copper and diamonds group, who said that final EIS was fatally flawed and clearly does not meet industry standard practice.  “Many of the most significant technical deficiencies identified in the draft EIS last year have not been addressed,” he said.

University of Washington doctoral student Sarah O’Neal, who was not on the panel, but has been on the ground doing research at the mine site for over a decade, also perused the final EIS and said she found several glaring shortcomings, including what she said was manipulation of habitat data to suggest that streams the mine would permanently remove were already in poor health, based on erroneous data and unsuitable metrics.

“The EIS discounts headwater streams that will be most impacted by mine development by calling them streams of ‘poor quality’ only because they didn’t support high densities of salmon during a short sampling window,” O’Neal said. “This glaring oversimplification of habitat, life history, and genetic diversity combine to produce the overall sustainability of Bristol Bay’s salmon populations is insufficiently defined and virtually ignored by the EIS.”

O’Neal said that the final EIS also ignores practical realities and relies upon technological impossibilities, as well as inevitable interruptions in wastewater treatment plant operations in the remote, wet and frequently frozen environment of Bristol Bay. Such interruptions can cause untreated, extremely toxic waters to spill directly into streams, she said.

“Moreover, while the EIS now states that wastewaters will be treated to currently existing background conditions rather than water quality standards, the technology to achieve that simply does not exist,” she said.