Wednesday, July 3, 2019

USACE Receives Thousands of Comments on Draft EIS on Pebble Mine

Upwards of 90,000 comments were submitted to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the Pebble mine before the July 1, deadline including a 433-page document from the environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska.

That document incorporated findings of two dozen individual scientists drawn upon to delve into details, data gaps and insufficiencies of the draft EIS.

The Trustees’ commentary notes that the Corps’ draft EIS virtually ignores the EPA’s 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, which relied heavily on scientific input and proposed limiting the degree to which streams and wetlands could be dug up or filled during mining in order to avoid unacceptable adverse impacts to the watershed.

Trustees also said that the combination of exposure to contaminants like copper and selenium, with changes in stream flows and temperatures, potential impacts to the food web, the certainty of blocked culverts diverting migration and road runoff silting up streambeds, plus the general hubbub that will come with the project, would degrade what is currently a salmon paradise.

Tim Bristol, executive director of SalmonState, an initiative housed at the New Venture Fund, indicated that when his entity started to look at the EIS in detail, they thought at first they have failed to receive the entire document, but then realized those deficiencies “were a calculated effort to gloss over or outright ignore major issues.”

University of Washington fisheries research professor Daniel Schindler called the draft EIS “careless” and suffering from “a complete lack of rigor.” Schindler said he believes that if that draft EIS was submitted to the standard scientific peer review process it would be soundly rejected. Former Pebble Mine Consultant Molly Welker wrote that chief among her concerns are that the Pebble plans to use untested water treatment plants that do not adequately treat for the mineral selenium, which is known to kill and cause deformities in fish.

The American Fisheries Society also weighed in during the comment period, telling the Corps’ that the draft EIS “fails to meet basic standards of risks to fish and their habitats are underestimated…many conclusions are not supported by the data or analysis provided, and critical information is missing.”

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