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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes preliminary Final EIS for proposed Pebble Mine project

(KTUU)
Published: Feb. 11, 2020 at 12:00 PM AKST
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed its Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Pebble Project and released the document to cooperating agencies and stakeholders in the Bristol Bay region.

Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the Army Corps’ Alaska District Regulatory Division, said in a teleconference Tuesday that the preliminary EIS is not intended for public release, but has been distributed to cooperating agencies and Bristol Bay Tribes.

Some of those stakeholders voiced opposition to the project after the preliminary document was released to them Tuesday.

“The Army Corps’ preliminary final EIS falls short of the directive given by other cooperating agencies, Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, and the rest of Congress,” said Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Director Katherine Carscallen. “The preliminary final EIS is more of the same; this Administration’s priority is a purely political process that completely ignores well-documented science and the voices of Alaskans.”

United Tribes of Bristol Bay released a statement Monday night saying the preliminary EIS shows a disregard for Congressional calls to address gaps in analysis.

"The preliminary final EIS provided to cooperating agencies and Tribes makes it clear that the agency is intent on a rushed process with a politically-determined outcome and will not conduct the comprehensive analysis of the mine that is expected, and legally required, in the permitting process," the statement reads in part. "The near-final review has not addressed myriad issues and data gaps cited by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other cooperating agencies."

SalmonState, an opponent of the project, released a statement saying in part that “SalmonState stands by the United Tribes of Bristol Bay's assessment that when it comes to the proposed Pebble Mine, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to disregard the scathing feedback it has received from scientists and scientific agencies, as well as the clear directives to address the shortcomings in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project from lawmakers such as Senator Lisa Murkowski.”

Meanwhile, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay released a statement saying, “the USACE has made it clear that it has no intention of conducting a science-based permitting process. Instead, it continues to rush the Pebble Project EIS process, favoring a foreign mining company and endangering Bristol Bay’s residents, fishermen, and the largest wild salmon fishery left on earth.”

Newman was asked during Tuesday’s teleconference about the opposition and concerns expressed by Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.

“There is a whole team of scientists doing exactly a science-based analysis,” Newman said. ”We've got multiple divisions of the state, the federal government. We've got two tribal councils, the Lake and Peninsula Borough — all groups of experts doing exactly scientific analysis for review of this permit application. And we continue to do that. We continue to collaborate on comments received and analyze information all the way up through the preliminary final EIS until we release the final.”

Last month, it was announced the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Pebble Mine will not include an analysis of the impacts of a tailings dam failure despite requests from agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Meanwhile, the Pebble Partnership this week

for reducing the open-pit mine project's impact on wetlands and salmon-bearing streams in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

Moving forward, cooperating agencies and Bristol Bay Tribes who received the preliminary EIS have 45 days to go over it and submit feedback.

“As issues arise, our program manager has bi-weekly calls with the cooperators to discuss issues," Newman, with the Army Corps of Engineers, said. “So everything can be discussed and debated then they submit any final comments in writing that they have.”

The Pebble Partnership called the preliminary final EIS encouraging. "The findings show the project can be developed without harm to the Bristol Bay fishery and would have important economic benefits for communities closest to the mine," Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier said in a statement.

"The notion that this process has been rushed and that key issues have been ignored is absolutely false," Collier wrote. "This process has not been rushed or truncated in any fashion. The USACE has been diligent and transparent in their review of the project."

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website, the final EIS is due to be released in mid-2020, and the Record of Decision, which will either issue a permit, issue a permit with conditions or deny the application, a minimum of 30 days later.

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