USACE seeks more comment on mine EIS analysis

Written commentary only being accepted through June 29

Grace Mulipola and her son, Christian, 21 months, were among demonstrators at the Dena-ina Center Anchorage on April 19, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took written testimony only inside on issues to be addressed in an environmental impact statement related to a permit application submitted by the Pebble Limited Partnership. Mulipola, a subsistence fish harvester from Koliganek, is legal assistant with Bristol Bay Native Corp. in Anchorage. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

A steady stream of people delivered written comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on how to frame its analysis for the environmental impact statement related to a permit application for large mine in the Bristol Bay watershed area.

The agency is scoping to put the sideboard on the environmental document, explained Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the regulatory division for the Corps’ Alaska District.

Dozens of people submitted their comments via computers provided by the Corps or in their own written testimony on April 19 in Anchorage, and much more is expected before the June 29 deadline. The Corps also had staff on hand on the second floor of the Dena’ina Center to answer questions about the scoping process, as they had in other areas of Alaska where similar events were held. An early draft of the EIS is expected to be released by the end of January 2019.

Outside on the street, opponents of the proposed Pebble mine listened to speakers urging them to stay strong in opposition to a mine they contend threatens habitat critical to the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand?” asked former Alaska legislative leader Rick Halford. “Twelve, 14 years of saying ‘no’, ‘no’ to foreign companies, ‘no’ to the developers and ‘no’ to the Corps of Engineers.”

Halford’s words, along with those of prominent speakers from Southwest Alaska communities, echoed the opposition voiced earlier in April when the Corps came to Dillingham, also seeking only written testimony.

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The Corps meanwhile continues to seek “any additional information to help inform the scope of analysis as it specifically relates to the Pebble Limited Partnerships submitted permit application to include potentially affected resources, alternative options, analytical methodology, and potential mitigation measures. Pebble’s application is posted online by the Corps at pebbleprojecteis.com

The PLP contends that the mine can be built and operated in harmony with fisheries. “This is scoping, which is an identification process, not the time for opinions,” said PLP spokesperson Mike Heatwole in a written statement. That will come when we get the next comment period for the draft environmental impact statement.”

Also, on April 19, state officials announced the re-establishment of the Bristol Bay Advisory Group, and separately issued a permit for the PLP to conduct activities on its mining claims in the Bristol Bay region during the 2018 field season.

“Bristol Bay supports the most productive wild sockeye fishery in the world,” Walker said. “We should continue to protect that resource, which has sustained the region for generations. The Department of Natural Resources’ issuance of a one-year exploration permit maintains robust oversight of the Pebble Limited Partnership as the company conducts reclamation, monitoring and exploration activities.

“The reinstatement of the Bristol Bay Advisory Group gives local residents a powerful tool to guide land and resource management in their region. These actions ensure good stewardship of the land while creating a forum for local voices to be heard loud and clear.”

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