Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File                                 In this file photo from June 25, 2019, Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office.

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File In this file photo from June 25, 2019, Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office.

Final impact statement for Pebble Mine delayed for three months

Army Corps of Engineers says it will take the time to review public comments

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced it would extend the deadline for its final Environmental Impact Statement for the Pebble Mine project a further three months.

The EIS was set to come out in early 2020 but the Corps announced in a press conference Monday that date would be extended to late June or early July 2020, Alaska Public Media reported.

Comments released by the Environmental Protection Agency in July said the Corps’ draft EIS “underestimates adverse impacts” to water and air quality, among other areas. The comments also recommend the Corps provide “significant additional information” about key components of the proposed plan.

EPA’s comments were noted by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who in July said she felt the EPA’s comments were substantial and well-made. Her concerns were codified in an appropriations bill coming out of the Senate Interior Subcomittee, of which Murkowski is chair.

“Sound science must drive the permitting process and that if the concerns raised by the agencies cannot be answered within the process, then the agencies should exercise their authority to protect the region’s world-class salmon fisheries,” Murkowski’s website says of the bill.

The EPA has the ability to veto a permit issued by the Corps if it decides the project would ultimately be harmful to the environment.

In its announcement Monday, the Corps said it would not be conducting additional fieldwork nor issuing a supplement to its draft EIS.

The move drew criticism from opponents of the Pebble Mine project who accused the Corps of trying to cover up bad work.

“The Corps did a lousy job on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and is now scrambling to pick up the pieces,” Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited, a fisheries conservation group, said in a press release.

“The Corps is reaching for Band-Aids when the patient needs a heart transplant,” Williams said.

The delay comes just days after a CNN report detailing close coordination between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Pebble Partnership, the company seeking to build the mine.

CNN reported Dec. 19 it had received a number of emails allegedly showing Pebble “coaching” Dunleavy in how to promote the project to President Donald Trump and federal agencies.

Dunleavy and the Pebble Partnership have said it’s normal for administrations to consult with industry groups regarding potential projects, and that the governor was supportive of the environmental review process.

EPA’s comments make a number of recommendations for supplemental information to remedy what it calls “data gaps” in the DEIS.

Newman told reporters Monday the Corps would be using the additional time to respond to concerns raised during the public comment period. The Corps will decide to issue its permit following release of the final EIS, according to the project website.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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