Update: Here’s reaction from SalmonState:
ANCHORAGE— On July 24, the world will know for sure what the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Pebble Mine, proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, will say — but the Army Corps has deferred to the D.C. based lobbyists and executives behind the proposed Pebble Mine throughout its evaluatory process. The most recent evidence is the Corp’s assertion that the northern transportation route for the mine was determined to be “practicable” simply because the Pebble Partnership said it was practicable, despite staunch opposition and letters from Pedro Bay Corporation, Igiugig Village Council, and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. They are landowners along the route, have asserted there is no possibility Pebble will receive permission to access their lands, and have told the Army Corps that the route should not be considered practicable. Why is the Army Corps considering Pebble’s definition of “practicable” more important than that of landowners who are staunch opponents of the mine and have been for years?
It’s unconscionable that the Army Corps is sticking to its rushed timeline and refusing to provide an additional public comment period on the northern route, which was panned in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which would cause irreparable harm to far more salmon streams and wetlands than the initial preferred route, and which opens up the possibility of the 78-year mine Pebble actually wants and needs.
It is well-known that the Army Corps has not sufficiently addressed myriad concerns from cooperating agencies, fishermen, Tribes and scientists in its final evaluation of the proposed open-pit gold and copper mine and toxic waste dam. The FEIS will fall far short of adequate, especially for a project at the headwaters of America’s greatest sockeye salmon resource, a place to which as of Sunday, July 19, 52,619,628 sockeye salmon had returned so far this year.
Americans, and Bristol Bay Tribes, residents and fishermen, deserve better.
SalmonState works to keep Alaska a place wild salmon thrive.
After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had a limited release of its Environmental Impact Statement was released earlier this year – opponents of the mine that saw the EIS statement was less than encouraged – the Corps announced today that the final draft will be released as scheduled on Friday.
Here’s the opening statement from David Hobbie, chief of the regulatory division for the USACE’s Alaska Division:
“To recap where we have been, in December 2017, we received an application from the Pebble Limited Partnership for a Department of the Army permit. In the application
Pebble requested authorization under two federal laws within the Corps jurisdiction:
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. We
determined that the impacts proposed in their application constituted a federal action
that would require an environmental impact statement. We initiated scoping for the EIS in 2018 over a 90 day period and held 9 public meetings during that time. We published the draft EIS in 2019 with a 120 day public comment period and held 9 public hearings. During the past two years we have traveled to many communities potentially affected by Pebble’s proposal and worked diligently with our cooperating agencies to address concerns raised throughout the EIS process.”
“All of these efforts have resulted in the production of the Final EIS which will be
published in the Federal Register this Friday, July 24, 2020. We will also post the Final
EIS on our website (www.pebbleprojecteis.com) as soon as it is made publically
“Critical for folks to understand is that the Final EIS is NOT a permit decision. It will be
used by the Corps to inform the final step in the review process which is the record of
decision. By regulation, the ROD cannot be finalized for at least 30-days from the
publishing of the Final EIS. We anticipate the ROD to be finalized later this year. I
reiterate, the Final EIS is NOT a permit decision.”
In a 45-minute conference call, Hobbie didn’t tip his hand much on what to expect since the original draft was shared with organizations with a stake in the mine and another round of public commenting was implemented. The “Northern Route” corridor – an 82-mile stretch that would create a road near Lake Iliamna – that the USACE recommended as the “least environmentally damaging alternative” was a common topic of conversation on Monday. An earlier proposed route would be via ferry across the lake, rather than the now preferred plan that would travel alongside Iliamna and that the Pebble Partnership has stated that it would be a practical option for them.
“The largest factor in this was the crossing on Iliamna Lake. What we heard from the onset from the public was that their greatest concern was the crossing; what the ice breaking may look like; what sort of damage it might cause; what sort of impact it may have,” Hobbie said Monday. “That was one of the major factors we took into consideration.”
But the Northern Route would also be crossing multiple streams as part of the Bristol Bay watershed’s vast network where salmon spawn. A Obama-administration 2014 Environmental Protection Agency report said such a route could have devastating effects on salmon habitat in the event of a mine failure. But the President Trump-led administration has reversed course on that assessement and has been essentially fast-tracking the mine’s permitting process.
Hobbie said his Army Corps of Engineers has been in “lockstep” with the EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over this planned Northern Route.
“We had weeks of meetings with the EPA and (USFWS) before we rendered this determination,” Hobbie added.
As Hobbie stated, the final statement that will be released the public on Friday will not solely determine a permit decision, and that there will be at least a 30-day wait for the record of decision to be finalized.