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Pebble Mine EIS on track for 2020 decision

 

Last updated 4/20/2018 at 6:03am

Army Corps of Engineers Pebble Mine permitting Bristol Bay Southwest Alaska

Layout of mine Pebble Partnership submitted for permitting.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes it can get to a decision on the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Pebble Mine project in Southwest Alaska by spring of 2020, or a little more than two years after the Pebble Partnership submitted permit applications.

"If things progress as we see, a decision will be made no earlier than the spring of 2020," said Sheila Newman, deputy chief, Regulatory Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District.

While this is a relatively short time for a federal agency to reach a record of decision on an EIS for the mine the size of Pebble, the Corps said it is not fast-tracking permitting for this world-class copper deposit in Alaska's Bristol Bay region.

Instead, the federal regulator said the two-year timeframe is the result of gaining efficiencies through lessons learned from going through the EIS process on other mines in Alaska, as well as an enormous amount of public comment already gathered during the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment carried out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"For this particular permit application, there is a tremendous amount of public information and public comment from other federal agency activities over the past ten years ... we also made the permit application publicly available for 85 days prior to the initiation of the public scoping period – we have never done that before," Newman explained.

Corps originally scheduled a 30-day scoping period for the Pebble EIS, which began on April 1.

This scoping period is a process used to determine the appropriate contents of an EIS and identify specific elements of the environment that might be affected by Pebble Partnership's proposal to develop a mine.

"During our scoping phase, we are asking the public to help us by reviewing the permit application and identifying issues; potential alternatives; environmental concerns; and potential analytical and mitigation measures," Newman said.

Many, however, believed the 30-day period was too short to fully address the scope of the potential impacts of a mine project the size being proposed for Pebble.

"Such a short timeframe will ultimately exclude not only the people of Bristol Bay, but all Alaskans," said United Tribes for Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley. "We will not have a meaningful opportunity to engage and provide critical input on how we will be impacted by the Pebble Mine."

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack and Sen. Lisa Murkowski also requested an extension.

After listening to stakeholder concerns, the Corps extended the time for the public to comment on the scope of Pebble to 90 days, which extends it out to June 29.

Newman said this extension, coupled with the fact that the Corps made Pebble's permit application available for review 85 days prior to the beginning of the public period, provides an unprecedented amount of time for stakeholders to consider the scope of the project.

"At the end of this 90-day period, the public will have had 175 days to digest the permit application and provide meaningful input into the process," said Newman.

The Corps kicked off a series of public meeting across the Bristol Bay region, Anchorage and Homer on April 9.

These meeting will wrap up with a scoping meeting in Anchorage on April 19.

Written comments may be submitted at any of the public meetings or mailed to:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District

ATTN: DA Permit Application 2017-271, Pebble Limited Partnership

P.O. Box 6898 Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, 99506-0898

Scoping input can be entered directly into the project website at http://www.pebbleprojecteis.com.

Newman said the public will have additional opportunities for dialogue once the Corps has completed a draft EIS, expected to be completed early in 2019.

–SHANE LASLEY

 

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