JUNEAU — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to release its final environmental review of a proposed copper and gold mine near the headwaters of a major salmon fishery in southwest Alaska, a review a corps official says will inform a permit decision expected later this year.
For years, the proposed Pebble Mine has been shrouded in controversy that release of the review expected Friday is unlikely to clear up. Some tribes, tribal groups, fishermen and others say the review has been rushed and is superficial.
Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, the project developer, said the work done so far provides confidence the review will show “why we believe the project can be done without harm to the Bristol Bay fishery.”
The corps previously disclosed a preliminary determination that a northern transportation route would be part of a “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.” David Hobbie, chief of the corps’ regional regulatory division, told reporters Monday that public comment, work with other agencies and review of information and impacts went into that determination.
Pedro Bay Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation, and the Igiugig Village Council, through officials, have raised concerns with that option, citing their ownership of land in the area that they have not given Pebble permission to use. Hobbie said the corps still deemed the option practicable because Pebble did.
Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesperson, by email said the Pebble partnership plans to engage with all landowners along the northern route and believes it “will be successful in obtaining access to the transportation corridor necessary for the project.”
Hobbie said the review would disclose the types of impacts that could be expected with a project.
The corps has said there are three options with its later record of decision: issuance of a permit, issuance of a permit with conditions, or denial. Hobbie said a record of decision cannot be finalized for at least 30 days from the publishing of the final environmental review.
Daniel Cheyette, vice-president for lands and natural resources for Bristol Bay Native Corp., cited concerns with the adequacy of the review.
“I think, based on where we are, the only permit decision that the corps can reach is a denial of the permit,” he said.
Bristol Bay produces about half the world’s sockeye salmon, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which under the Obama administration proposed restrictions on development in the region.
Those restrictions were never finalized, and the agency last year withdrew the proposal, saying it was outdated and issued preemptively.
Pebble argued the proposed restrictions were based on hypothetical projects and pushed to have the project go through the permitting process. Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., which owns the Pebble partnership, has been seeking a project partner for years, and Pebble is hopeful that success with permitting will aid in that effort. Pebble, as part of its push, still would need state approvals.
• By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press