Scientific Experts Weigh In On Pebble EIS

A panel of scientists and technical experts gathered for a Zoom conference on Monday morning. Last Thursday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ final Environmental Impact Statement was released with the recommendation of an alternative plan that would create Pebble Partnership’s plan for the gold and copper mine.

Here’s a sampling of what the panel said about the EIS and the mine’s future via a United Tribes of Bristol Bay and Bristol Bay Native Association press release:

Bristol Bay, AK – Technical experts and Bristol Bay leaders reiterated significant short-comings and gapsin Pebble’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, making it imperative that elected leaders step in to stop the permit from being issued to the Pebble Mine.

Scientific experts exposed the significant inadequacies of Pebble’s environmental review and reiterate that Pebble’s plan would destroy the pristine waters of Bristol Bay that support critical salmon habitat that provides for the region’s indigenous people and half the world’s supply of wild sockeye salmon. The release of such an inexcusable final assessment demonstrates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Pebble Limited Partnership are working hand in hand to push this toxic project forward, despite overwhelming local and national opposition.

Technical and scientific experts detailed just a few of the many problems with Pebble’s plan and reviewtoday, alongside local leaders who stated the fight is far from over and reaffirmed their commitment to protecting Bristol Bay by stopping the Pebble project.

BBNA President and CEO Ralph Andersen:

“It remains clear the Corps didn’t take seriously the concerns from state, federal and Tribal cooperatingagencies, 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….The Army Corps has failed to take a hard look at the damage (Pebble) will do in Bristol Bay. Pebble willdestroy thousands of acres of wetlands that nurture Bristol Bay’s salmon, it will make our home into a testing ground for new, unproven mining technology, it will come with toxic tailings our region’s peoplewill have to deal with in perpetuity-confirming that it is not a matter of if contamination will occur but just a matter of when. It is clear the time is now for our elected leaders to stop this project by holding the government accountable- the EPA has the authority and the responsibility to stop the Pebble Mine. Our fight is far from over. We will continue to use every tool available – from Congress to the Courts – to protect our way of life. There will be no compromise, and we will never stop. The fight will continue. We were here long before Pebble and we will be here long after Pebble is gone.”

Nondalton Tribal Council President George Alexie:

“From the start, the Army Corps did everything they possibly could to keep tribes and local people out ofthis process. At first they denied our request to be a cooperating agency…It took our Tribal Council goingall the way to Washington D.C. and meeting with officials at the pentagon before our request was approved. We had to travel 3000 miles to get a seat at the table for a project 13 miles away from

us. Over the course of the permitting process, everything was done to keep our input to a minimum….Inpage1image27424page1image27584

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.

…The EIS release today is not a legitimate document. It is 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. It is shameful. The Army Corps plays its games, they say a decision has not yet been made on apermit. I’m here to tell you, a decision was made even before Pebble filed for this permit. The ArmyCorps did everything in its power to ensure Pebble could get its permit including walking all over theTribes.”

Dave Chambers, Ph.D P.Geop:

“All the large mine proposals or expansion proposals in Alaska for the last 20 years, these have all beenaccompanied by a feasibility study. Now what the lack of this feasibility study (for Pebble) says, inaddition to looking at the economics of the mine, it basically says we don’t have a realistic minescenario. (Pebble) is not a mine scenario that makes engineering sense. And because this is anunrealistic mine scenario, it’s led to some serious omissions of potential impacts in the EIS.

…This EIS is a time-driven document. This is essentially the model that was recently proposed by the Trump Administration, that is, a two-year timeline. And that is essentially what this EIS was done under, basically two years. The environmental impact statement as envisioned by the National Environmental Policy Act was supposed to be a data-driven process, with science identifying the risks and mitigation measures for those risks. A time-driven process does not allow for science-based analysis. It only allows for as much science as can be done in the time allowed. And this is probably why we see such poor analysis in tailings dam design issues like seismic stability, dam foundation geotechnical analysis and evaluating the long-term risks of failures.”

Dr. Cameron Wobus, Senior Scientist, Lynker Technologies:

“If Pebble is developed, it will become a huge water and waste management challenge which the EISacknowledges will need to be actively managed in perpetuity. …Even the “small” mine they’re seeking topermit will still create huge amounts of toxic waste that will need to be kept segregated forever from everything that flows downstream, in a place where water is literally everywhere. Add to that the fact that the Pebble deposit is in a seismically active part of the US and half of the world’s wild sockeyecomes from those rivers downstream, and what that means is that the margin for error for this mine is incredibly low, which means the bar that should be set for this EIS should be incredibly high. From my review of both the draft and the final EIS, this EIS fails to meet even a low bar for scientific credibility….Many of the conclusions in the EIS are based on simple assertions rather than data or publishedliterature. They just assert something and you’re supposed to accept those assertions as fact.”

Gordon Reeves, Ph.D Fisheries Ecology:

“The Army Corps dismisses the impacts of the operation of the mine to salmon and other native fish, but there is a glaring absence of support for this contention in the EIS. …The proposed mine threatens to disrupt the health and productivity of salmon in Bristol Bay.

…The EIS failed to properly consider basic tenants of the ecology of pacific salmon. Salmon populations in Bristol Bay, like salmon populations everywhere, are highly adapted to local environmental conditions. As an example, water temperature influences growth and physiology, and local populations generally have a relatively narrow range in which they perform best. The EIS used water temperatures

from populations outside of Bristol Bay and outside of Alaska to assess the potential effects of increases in water temperature resulting from the mine operation. The corps depended extensively also on models to assess the impacts of flow and flow alterations, which is one of the major effects of the mine. The validity and ability of these models to discern and assess ecological changes in a system as dynamic as Bristol Bay were seriously questioned in scientific literature. The Corps blatantly ignored or dismissed these concerns.”

Midgard Environmental Services Owner Rich Bordenformer head of environment for Rio Tinto’s Copper and Diamonds Group with over 30 years of experience in the mining and consulting industries:“The final environmental impact statement remains 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. The final EIS still commonly understates potential impacts, provides inadequate review of many risks and defers essential analyses and design to the Post-EIS period.

…Given the profound risks to water quality and fish habitat, it’s baffling that more detailed design work,along with laboratory and pilot scale testing of the unproven (water) treatment process have been deferred until after the EIS is completed. Without this work, any conclusions in the Final EIS showing a lack of harm to downstream receiving water quality are not technically defensible.

…The compensatory mitigation plan, which is intended to identify offsets to the large unavoidable impacts to wetlands, streams and rivers in the Bristol Bay region that would result from the mine, is inadequate. The impacts that would be caused by the mine include the permanent loss of nearly 100percent of current ecosystem function on 2100 acres of pristine wetlands, and 100 miles of streams… (Pebble’s proposed) mitigation projects would almost certainly offset less than 10 percent of the mine’simpacts and would likely offset less than 1 percent. This is clearly inadequate for impacts in such asensitive setting.”

Note to the media: The recorded event and imagery to use with stories can be found at this link:https://bit.ly/FEISPressConference Please contact UTBB Communications Director Molly Dischner atmdischner@utbb.org or (907) 394-0117 with technical issues.

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Bristol Bay Native Association represents 31 Bristol Bay tribes & is the regional nonprofit tribal consortium providing social, economic, and educational opportunities to tribal members.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments (that representover 80 percent of the region’s total population) working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life inBristol Bay.

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