Army Corps of Engineers releases Pebble Mine’s draft environmental impact statement

The proposed site of the Pebble Mine.
The proposed site of the Pebble Mine. (Photo by Jason Sear/KDLG)

In a major step in the federal permitting process, the Army Corps of Engineers have released a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Pebble Mine.

The purpose of the draft EIS is to analyze the project’s proposal and present alternative plans. The final document will inform federal agencies as they decide whether or not to permit the copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Bristol Bay.

The environmental review totals more than 1,400 pages. In it, the Corps considers four courses of action in detail. It studied Pebble’s proposed plan and examined alternate transportation corridors, including one that would omit the icebreaking ferry across Iliamna Lake. It also analyzed the possibility of not permitting a mine. The mine site would span 10.7 miles and would operate for 20 years.

The Corps released the review two days earlier than anticipated, but groups invested in the debate surrounding the controversial project are already responding.

One longtime opponent of the mine is the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Executive Director Alannah Hurley said that she is deeply disappointed by the draft’s scope.

“It completely omits local concerns and doesn’t take seriously many of the impacts that our people would feel from this project,” Hurley said. “It completely ignores collective impacts of any potential spills, of tailings failure. The fact that the Corps would even put this out and call it a draft EIS at this point is so astounding and insulting to the people of Bristol Bay.”

Pebble Limited Partnership sees the draft as a positive step toward federal permitting. In a statement, CEO Tom Collier said, “We see no significant environmental challenges that would preclude the project from getting a permit and this shows Alaska stakeholders that there is a clear path forward for this project that could potentially generate significant economic activity, tax revenue and thousands of jobs.”

If built, the mine would tap into one of the largest undeveloped sources of copper and gold in North America. It would also be located near some of the richest salmon habitat in the world.

A 90-day public comment period will begin March 1. The length of that period is controversial as well; the Corps maintains that it is adequate, while critics say that it is too short.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin said in a statement, “A 270-day comment period on the Draft EIS is the first – and necessary – step in holding the Pebble Limited Partnership accountable during the permitting process. Bristol Bay cannot become a laboratory to test unproven and unprecedented mining practices.”

In a press pool Wednesday morning, Corps Program Manager Shane McCoy laid out his suggestions for the public to review the draft.

“A lot of the technical stuff is going to be in the appendices,” he said. “Chapter three is the effective environment baseline. Chapter four is environmental impacts. I would point people to start with the executive summary, which I believe is 80 pages or so, and it’s a higher level, and then dive down deep into the subsequent sections and chapters.”

McCoy said that the Corps would take all public comments into consideration before it releases the final EIS, estimated for early 2020.

Comments can comment on the draft online via the Corps’ website or by mail. There will also be nine public hearings as part of the public comment period. The first meeting takes place March 25 in Naknek.