Federal decision puts hurdle in road to Pebble mine

USACE: Project as proposed cannot be permitted under Section 404 of Clean Water Act

A Trump administration decision that the Pebble mine could result in significant adverse effects on the environment of the Bristol Bay watershed has put hurdle in the road for project’s development.

While the Trump administration supports the mining industry and its potential economic benefits to the country, the project could have substantial environmental impacts within the unique Bristol Bay watershed and lacks adequate compensatory mitigation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday, Aug. 24.

“Given these concerns, the Corps finds that the project, as currently proposed, cannot be permitted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” the Corps said.

The announcement prompted shares of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., a subsidiary of Vancouver, British Columbia based Hunter Dickenson, to plunge for two days straight.

In Anchorage meanwhile, Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, cited the USACE notification as a normal letter in the permitting process.

“We are well into an effort to present a mitigation plan to the USACE that complies with the requirements of their letter,” Collier said, in a statement released by the PLP. “The letter does not ask for a delay or pause in the permitting process,” Collier said. “In fact, it clearly states that the USACE is continuing its work toward a Record of Decision for the project.”

The Corps has given Northern Dynasty 90 days to explain its plan to offset the identified adverse impact to wetlands in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Mine opponents meanwhile praised the Corps’ decision to require a new compensatory mitigation plan for the proposed mine.

“Bristol Bay’s commercial fishermen applaud the Army Corps and Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for making a commitment to safeguard the world’s largest wild salmon run,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Development Association. “Alaska’s senators have repeatedly made it clear that the project would need to pass a very high bar to advance through permitting without trading one resource for another.”

“This determination highlights the extensive damage the Pebble mine would have on salmon habitat,” he said.

Katherine Carscallen, director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, called the Corps’ decision “refreshing and positive news to our fishermen and a huge step in the right direction.”

“We are finally seeing the permitting agencies reach the same conclusions and concern our industry has been voicing for decades; development of the Pebble Mine would cause significant and unacceptable harm to Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery and must not be permitted,” she said.

Harvesters of Bristol Bay’s famed wild salmon run delivered nearly 40 million fish in the season just ending. The multi-million-dollar fishery provides thousands of jobs annually in the harvest, processing, transportation and related sectors.

“We are pleased to see the Corps and Alaska’s senators have come to the same conclusion as the rest of the scientific community, that Pebble will have such severe impacts there is no way to mitigate the destruction it will cause,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “It is impossible for Pebble to mitigate the devastation this mine will have on our Native cultures and our watershed. Pebble should not move forward in this process and should not be built. It is time for the Environmental Protection Agency to step in and veto this project using its Clean Water Act authority.”

Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, said the Corps was correct in finding that “a colossal open pit mine at the headwaters of America’s greatest remaining wild salmon fishery and the source of 14,000 jobs is too toxic to build at this time.”

“Clearly this is the wrong mine in the wrong place, and it’s now time to end this saga; we call on the Environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto the Pebble Mine,” he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, also praised the Corps’ decision.

“The Trump Administration and the Army Corp of Engineers finally said what scientists, fishermen, sportsmen, Tribal leaders and restaurateurs have been saying all along — a mine at Bristol Bay would kill too many salmon and is an unacceptable place for mining,” Cantwell said. “There is nothing Pebble Mine can say or do to mitigate an unmitigated disaster.”