As Pebble closes in on federal permit, supporters and critics disagree on impacts

A digital simulation of what the proposed Pebble Mine’s foundation will look like if it receives a federal permit. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Pebble Limited Partnership is now one step away from receiving a federal permit for the proposed Pebble Mine, a deeply controversial development that would tap large copper and gold deposits at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier says the finished environmental impact statement shows the mine can be built without harming the environment.

“The final EIS is the first time that a federal agency has engaged in a rigorous review of the specific plan that we intend to use to build this project,” Collier said. “After doing that, in the draft and preliminary final, they concluded that the project won’t damage the fishery.”

The report says construction of the mine will impact up to 200 miles of streams and 4,000 acres of wetlands.

Lisa Reimers is a board member of Iliamna Natives Limited. She supports Pebble’s development and says the environmental impact statement provides enough safeguards to protect the environment around the project. Reimers says this affects her on a personal level as well.

“My mom just passed. Her and my dad, they’ve both passed now, but they were both big supporters of resource development,” Reimers said. “They thought their families should work. This is a good project, and we want to see something positive happen out in the area. We don’t see any projects coming down the pipeline that would help the area and make it grow, so people can continue to live out there and prosper.”

The Army Corps of Engineer’s preferred transportation route is the northern alternate route. This route avoids a ferry crossing on Lake Iliamna, but the review says it will damage fish streams and other water bodies.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s President and CEO Jason Metrokin says the report fails to address these concerns.

“The final EIS is really no different,” Metrokin says. “To have such significant changes during the process and the later weeks and months of the process just goes to show, at least in our opinion, that the process seems like it’s focused on a political timeline rather than a regulatory timeline.”

Bristol Bay Native Corporation owns subsurface rights to land the northern route will cross. The corporation objects to any use of that land to build the mine.

The northern route would also require access to land owned by Igiugig Village Council, and it would cut through the Diamond Point rock quarry. Council member Christina Salmon manages the quarry.

“Pebble has zero right to overstep anything,” Salmon said. “Diamond Point rock quarry is owned wholly by Igiugig Village Council. We’re a sovereign nation. They can’t bring us to court to overrule us on property that a sovereign nation owns. Their confidence that they can work with the landowners was laughable at the least.”

It will take at least 30 days for the Army Corps to issue a record of decision – the final word on whether the mine will get the federal permit it needs.

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