Cook Inletkeeper holds meeting on Pebble Mine

  • A map of the Amakdedori Creek area shows the proposed Pebble Mine port. (Map by Pebble Limiter Partnership via Cook Inletkeeper)
  • This map of lower Cook Inlet shows the proposed Pebble Mine and associated infrastructure (Map by Pebble Limiter Partnership via Cook Inletkeeper)
  • “Don’t do someone else’s scoping comments. Do your scoping comments. What do you want to see? What alternatives do you think should be considered? … Keep it as personal as possible,” Donna Aderhold, right, told the audience at Cook Inletkeeper’s Friday meeting regarding the Pebble mine project. Currently on the Homer City Council, Aderhold has experience with environmental impact statement scoping periods on other projects through her work as a wildlife ecologist and as a research wildlife biologist. Carly Wier, Cook Inletkeeper executive director, is pictured on the left. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News)
  • An update on the Pebble mine project presented by Cook Inletkeeper on Friday and a plea for the public’s involvement drew a crowd that filled Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center’s auditorium. Those arriving late found themselves unable to get in. (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky)
  • Having visited the Pebble mine site and surrounding area, retired fish biologist Steve Albert said the project was a “gross error in judgment. … There is no way this project should go forward. … The public needs to be relentless (commenting) on every aspect of these companies, every aspect of this project.” (Photo by McKibben Jackinsky)

Update: In a press release on Friday, April 6, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it has added an additional 60 days to the 30-day public scoping period. Interested parties will have until June 29 to submit comments.

Time is of the essence.

That was the message at Friday’s public meeting organized by Cook Inletkeeper to provide an update on Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposal for a 1-mile wide, quarter-mile deep, open-pit copper-gold-molybdenum porphyry mine in Southwest Alaska, within the Lake and Peninsula Borough and related on- and off-site infrastructure. The project entered a short, 30-day scoping stage on Sunday, during which the public may submit comments to help the United States Army Corps of Engineers determine the scope of the project’s environmental impact statement.

“This is time where we as the public can push how environmental impacts are assessed and what the potential alternatives are,” said Loretta Brown, a lawyer with Salmon State, an initiative working to protect salmon habitat.

Friday’s crowd filled Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center’s auditorium. Latecomers found themselves turned away, with no room remaining in the 170-maximum capacity space.

In December, Pebble Limited Partnership, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northern Dynasty, submitted a dredge-and-fill permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, triggering the National Environmental Policy Act’s environmental review process.

“This is actually one of the smallest applications we’ve ever seen in front of the Army Corps of Engineers. This is missing a lot of information … and that’s because Pebble hasn’t done a lot of the work yet,” said Brown. Of the fast-track comment period, she added, “The fact that the Corps is pushing the biggest project with the smallest amount of participation is worrisome.”

Bob Shavelson, Cook Inletkeeper’s advocacy director, described the Pebble project as a “zombie” for the number of times it has surfaced over the years. Using data collected by Cominco American Incorporated in the 1980s and 1990s, Northern Dynasty submitted a report to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in 2004 indicating a deposit of 26.5 million ounces of gold and 16.5 billion pounds of copper, plus lesser amounts of molybdenum and silver, at a site approximately 17 miles northwest of Iliamna. The report estimated an optimum 90,000 to 200,000 tons per day milling capacity for the 30-60 year life of the mine.

With most of Alaska’s wild sockeye salmon coming from Bristol Bay, an area defined by the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research as the world’s most valuable wild salmon fishery, the mine’s location sparked concern about salmon habitat. Project opposition focused on risks posed by toxic wastes, construction of extensive infrastructure, securing a source capable of supplying sufficient water, and seismic instability of the area.

In 2011, Lake and Peninsula Borough voters approved the “Save Our Salmon” initiative to stop development of large-scale resource extraction activity within the borough. However, Pebble representatives and the state of Alaska argued the initiative superseded the Legislature’s constitutional authority and Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled the initiative void. In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency invoked a provision of the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay after finding the mine “would result in complete loss of fish habitat due to elimination, dewatering and fragmentation of streams, wetlands and other aquatic resources.”

Late last year, following a meeting with Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew that protection, but in January 2018, Pruitt seemed to shift gears after reviewing comments and hearing from stakeholders.

“Based on that review, it is my judgment at this time that any mining projects in the region likely pose a risk to the abundant natural resources that exist there,” Pruitt said in a January 26 press release. “Until we know the full extent of that risk, those natural resources and world-class fisheries deserve the utmost protection.”

Claiming “great strides” taken to redesign the project, PLP says the current plan is less than half its originally proposed size. It now includes a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula that makes a 94-mile traverse across Cook Inlet’s seafloor to a deepwater port at Amakdedori, west of Augustine Island. An 83-mile transportation corridor stretches from the port to the mine, with an ice–breaking ferry to transport materials across an 18-mile stretch of Iliamna Lake. Workforce estimates indicate 2,000 workers during a four-year construction period and 850 workers during the mine’s 20 years of operation.

In spite of changes, risks still exist, according to Carly Wier, Cook Inletkeeper’s executive director.

“At the core (of Cook Inletkeeper’s) work is clean water and salmon habitat because we recognize its part of what makes us Alaska, sustains our cultures, our communities. It’s something we can’t sacrifice,” said Wier. “Pebble is a direct threat to both of those things.”

Describing the permitting system as a “façade” to make people believe the system provides for environmental protections,” Shavelson said, “Pebble knows all they had to get was to the beginning of the permitting process and it would spit out a permit at the end.”

Regarding the mine’s economic feasibility, Brown said the project as now described by PLP appears too small to result in any profit, but is more likely the first step to a larger operation.

“It’s important to call this what it is,” said Shavelson. “It’s a lie. They know they can’t make this economically feasible. They cannot do it unless they mine a very large section of the area.”

A handout of topics to be considered when commenting on the project included impacts on bear viewing and flight tours, Amakdedori port dangers, the purse seine fishery, fish and wildlife, the Kenai Peninsula economy, sport and charter fishing, local lodges, Homer residents and social services, increased boat traffic in Cook Inlet, Kachemak Bay and the Homer harbor. Reading and understanding the project proposal before commenting was encouraged, with comments to be specific and personal, and suggestions to be included. The scoping package and a link to submit comments can be found online at pebbleprojecteis.com.

The Corps of Engineers has scheduled public meetings in eight communities during the scoping period, including one at Homer High School, 5-9 p.m., April 11. The meeting includes a video explaining the project and Corps representatives available to answer questions. What the meeting does not include is a public hearing. Instead, written comments are to be submitted at the meeting in person, entered into provided computers, or given verbally to a court reporter.

Comments also may be submitted in writing to:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District

Program Manager, Regulatory Division

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

P.O. Box 6898

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska 99506-0898

A rally organized by Cook Inletkeeper will be held on April 11, at Homer High School, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

“A lot of us have done this before: shown up, written, commented, called decision-makers. And here we are again. It’s very frustrating. Very hard. But imagine what this is like in Bristol Bay. … They are trying to find ways to use their voices in this process,” said Wier. “It’s up to all of us right now. We have to show up, stand up, be louder and bolder than we were before.”

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer. She can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com.

SIDEBAR #1:

Cook Inletkeeper has scheduled the following conversations about the impacts of the Pebble mine so local knowledge can be shared to collectively write to for help in writing scoping comments. Please join one of these working groups (RSVP appreciated):

Wildlife Impacts

Friday, April 6, 5:30 p.m.

Kachemak Conservation Center, Cook Inletkeeper office

3734 Ben Walters Lane

Food and refreshments provided

RSVP to Penny at: pah02003@mymail.pomona.edu

Bear Viewing and Tourism Impacts

Monday, April 9, 5:30 p.m.

Kachemak Conservation Center, Cook Inletkeeper office

3734 Ben Walters Lane

Food and refreshments provided

RSVP to Penny at: pah02003@mymail.pomona.edu

General Pebble Comment Writing Workshop

Thursday, April 26, 5:30 p.m.

Kachemak Conservation Center, Cook Inletkeeper office

3734 Ben Walters Lane

Food and refreshments provided

RSVP to Satchel at: satchel@inletkeeper.org

SIDEBAR #2:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 30-day comment period regarding the scope of the environmental impact statements for the application submitted by Pebble Limited Partnership has drawn widespread criticism.

“Due to the size and potential impact of the proposed mine, a 30-day scoping process is likely insufficient for the public to identify, and the USACE to address, issues of concern, studies that are needed, and alternatives to be examined.” — Letter from Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew T. Mack to Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, March 28

“The scale of mining proposed by Pebble is unprecedented anywhere in Alaska and is particularly alarming in light of the severe adverse impacts it would bring to the Bristol Bay watershed. Moreover, the Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposal includes a host of major new project components for which no significant baseline studies have been carried out.” — Letter from Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, to Shane McCoy of the USACE’s Alaska District, March 12

“PSPA (Pacific Seafood Processors Association) is greatly concerned about the proposed Pebble mine project, one of the largest and the most controversial projects in the history of Alaska, utilizing a minimal 30-day scoping period and process for public participation. … The mining activities proposed by Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) could lead to significant, permanent changes to the habitat upon which sockeye depend, leading to potentially permanent hard to Alaska’s sockeye fishery. … We find that 30 days is insufficient for allowing the public to provide meaningful and relevant information that should be considered in preparing an EIS.” — Letter from Glenn Reed, PSPA president, to McCoy, March 26

“We write with these specific requests: (1) the Corps not initiate any NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process until PLP presents sufficient environmental baseline and economic data; (2) when it comes time to start a NEPA scoping process, the Corps include a minimum 120-day comment period, with public hearings and necessary translation services throughout Bristol Bay, the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, and the Pacific Northwest; and (3) the Corps provide full and broad-scope participation by federal and state resource agencies and tribal government entities as cooperating agencies.” — Letter from a consortium of tribal entities to McCoy, March 9

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