Pebble Mine opponents, supporters prepare for final public hearing on draft environmental impact statement

Published: Apr. 15, 2019 at 8:52 PM AKDT
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Beginning Tuesday at 12 p.m., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold its final public hearing on the Pebble Mine Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and groups both opposed to and in support of the proposed project are gearing up to mobilize public testimony.

Save Bristol Bay and Trout Unlimited Alaska are working with members of the public opposed to Pebble Mine to help refine their testimony.

"We are encouraging our people to say no to Pebble Mine because of the risk it poses to the fishery," Jenny Weiss with Trout Unlimited said.

Weiss, a long-time angler in Alaska, says Pebble Mine could negatively impact a $1.5 billion annual industry and create permanent disruptions to Bristol Bay’s salmon population.

"We argue that Bristol Bay is salmon country, and the jobs there should be based off of salmon resources," Weiss said, echoing a sentiment shared by many others opposed to the project.

Don Fleming has been fishing in Alaska since the early 1970s. He says he started going to Bristol Bay when fishing for steelhead trout in southeast Alaska got too crowded.

“I'm not opposed to mining," Flemming said, but he is particularly concerned about Pebble Mine. “I think that this mine is in a place that has inherent danger to it, to change the ecosystem that is so fragile in Bristol Bay."

Fleming’s solution is to mine elsewhere. “I think there are some other deposits in other areas," he said.

The Pebble Partnership also spent Monday preparing for the public hearing, according to spokesperson Mike Heatwole. They will have a hospitality room on the third floor of the Dena’ina Center during the hearing, and a hotline to answer questions.

The company will face a vocal, well-defined opposition, like that from independent freshwater ecologist Sarah O’Neal, who has worked with Trout Unlimited before.

O’Neal has studied impacts of mining projects on freshwater ecosystems around the world, including Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Argentina.

“There have been untold numbers of impacts,” O'Neal said.

O’Neal’s work on the Bristol Bay ecosystem measures pre-mining conditions for future reference, "so that if and when Pebble Mine ever goes in, we can measure changes and catch them early, hopefully."

The public hearing is from 12 to 8 p.m. at the Dena'ina Center. The public comment period lasts through May 30.