Word that the US Army Corps of Engineers will not require public input or scrutiny into major changes in a massive mine permit application has prompted a call, by Bristol Bay fishermen and others, to halt the permitting process for the Pebble mine.
“Allowing for changes to be made over and over, basically behind closed doors further erodes my trust in the Army Corps of Engineers to make a responsible and science-based decision in the process that has been demonstrated over and over to fail the public’s trust,” said Lindsey Bloom, a veteran harvester speaking for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.
“The vast majority of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans do not want this project to move forward, period,” said Bloom. “Nothing that I see here makes this a better, safer or more responsible project.”
The subject of concern is a memo from the Pebble Limited Partnership delivered to the Corps on Aug. 12 listing proposed changes to its Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application. During a teleconferenced news briefing on Tuesday, September 17, Corps officials affirmed there would be no additional public process to get comment on the changes involving a new transportation route, new locations for major water treatment infrastructure at the mine site and a new location for water used in mine operations to be discharged.
According to the Pebble Partnership’s Mike Heatwole, these changes are “all environmental enhancements undertaken in response to agency and public input, and will have the effect of reducing the project's overall footprint, its impact on wetlands and waters of the US, and otherwise improve its environmental performance…
“We have outlined ten physical improvements and two design and execution improvements that reduce overall project impacts and further avoid, or minimize, impacts to WOTUS,” Heatwole said.
The Bristol Bay Economic Development Association and United Tribes of Bristol Bay joined commercial fishermen in calling for suspension of the permitting process.
“Absolute baloney,” said Norm Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. “These project changes only reinforce that the Pebble Partnership was not prepared to go into permitting and the Corps should not have accepted their incomplete application in the first place. From day one, the Corps has made exceptions for the Pebble Partnership, lowering the bar for them at the expense of Bristol Bay’s residents, fishermen, tries and other stakeholders.”
The permitting process is being corrupted, Van Vactor said. “They owe it to the people of Alaska to step in and make it right, to follow the science in front of them.”
Former Alaska Senate President Rick Halford and Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, criticized the Corps’ handling of the permitting process. Halford said the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment showed that the project cannot be done without harming the Bristol Bay fishery because of three unchangeable facts: location, type and size. “For the political process to push the professionals in the Corps to even accept this application as complete is shameful,” he said.
Hurley also voiced concerns for the safety of Bristol Bay fisheries, contending that the project is being pushed forth at record speed, with no regard for the science and facts promised to be used to assess the project during permitting.
The Corps documents site on the project, https://pebbleprojecteis.com/documents/library, is updated continuously. The public comment period on the draft EIS ran from March 1 through July 1, and those comment too are included on the site.