Threat from Pebble mine takes another step toward reality with release of environmental review

Anglers and fishing business owners argue mine permit review process be suspended

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement today concerning the current Bristol Bay mining plan proposed by Pebble Limited Partnership. Along with 3,000-plus-pages of documents, the Corps of Engineers announced it will open a 90-day public comment period, beginning March 1, to collect input.

A tool for decision making, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement describes positive and negative environmental effects of Pebble’s current proposal, lists four alternative actions that may be chosen, but does not consider impacts of mining the full Pebble deposit.

“Though already massive, Pebble’s current permit application under review by the Corps of Engineers considers only a small fraction of the overall impact the Pebble mine would ultimately have in Bristol Bay. Because of this, the review process for the proposed Pebble mine underway is woefully inadequate and should be halted,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited. “A giant mine proposal slated for the heart of salmon country should never have advanced this far at all and is overwhelmingly opposed by Alaskans. It demands a far more rigorous review than the rushed, inadequate effort we’ve seen from the Corps of Engineers.”

The current permit application is limited to the Pebble Partnership’s plan to develop the first 1.5 billion tons of the nearly 11-billion-ton deposit, despite the fact that the Partnership has clearly signaled to potential funders its intention to build a much larger mine. Additionally, the Corps of Engineers has set the shortest timeline of any active permitting process requiring an Environmental Impact Statement overseen by the Corps of Engineers in Alaska, despite the massive size and projected impact of the phase-one proposal.

Pebble has not released an economic viability study for the proposed phase-one project, an unusual omission for a project at this stage of the NEPA review.

“Though we know if permitted, Pebble will mine the full deposit, even this initial mine plan makes clear that the Pebble Partnership cannot protect clean water and salmon in Bristol Bay, or the landscape conditions that attract anglers from around the globe. Because of this, Alaskans and Bristol Bay businesses have said NO to this mine for years,” said Brian Kraft owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge in Bristol Bay. “Pebble Mine would fundamentally alter a world-class fishery upon which family businesses and 37,000 recreational fishermen rely, and rivers that are slated to bring 40 million wild salmon to the region this year.”

Public participation is an important part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is one of the most important aspects, and among the last opportunities for public involvement, of that process.

“The 90-day comment period is outrageous for a project of this magnitude and complexity, and we strongly encourage the Corps to extend the comment period to at least 270 days to allow for adequate review of this devastating project,” said Williams.

The current application, with incomplete fisheries and water data and without proof of financial viability, contains plans to dredge and fill more than 4,000 acres of wetlands in the Bristol Bay region during initial development of the proposed Pebble mine. The mine and supporting facilities will run continuously for 24 years, according to the current plan. More than 26,000 Alaskans commented with concerns over the current mine proposal curing the scoping period held last spring by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Trout Unlimited is currently reviewing full scientific and technical aspects of the document and will release a full analysis within the coming weeks.

Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization. In Alaska, we work with more than 100 angling businesses and thousands of individual sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at tu.org and savebristolbay.org.