Scientists: Pebble Mine study doesn’t account for all risks

Scientists: Pebble Mine study doesn’t account for all risks

Group presents to Alaska House Resources committee

Representatives have been grappling with the a proposal to develop a mine near Bristol Bay.

As a part of the wider discussion, the House Resources committee heard Monday from a group of scientists and advocates who disagree with the Pebble Mine project, which proposes developing the Pebble copper-­gold­-molybdenum porphyry deposit (Pebble Deposit) in southwest Alaska as an open-pit mine, with associated infrastructure.

A group of scientists and Bristol Bay residents held a press conference, detailing concerns with the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in February. Some critics have said the 90-day comment period for this DEIS is not long enough, considering the length of the document.

The chief concerns were that the DEIS used too short of a time frame to associate the risks of the mine, it used an inappropriate fish habitat assessment, cumulative risks were essentially ignored, there was very little mention of long-term risks associated with climate change and that it used selective use of scientific literature when backing up claims.

[Like ‘Willie Nelson regulating pot?’ Public skeptical of commissioner’s Pebble past]

“It is absolutely clear that it has way underestimated risks and does not pass as credible science,” said Daniel Schindler, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington during the press conference.

Dr. Daniel Schindler, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, left, and Dr. Cameron Wobus, a Senior Scientist at Lynker Technologies, present at a press conference against thePebble Mine project on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Dr. Daniel Schindler, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, left, and Dr. Cameron Wobus, a Senior Scientist at Lynker Technologies, present at a press conference against the Pebble Mine project on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Resources Co-Chair, Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, says that the Army Corps of Engineers will be speaking in front of the committee on the same topic soon.

Norman Van Vactor, a longtime participant in Bristol Bay fisheries and current CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, said that he has absolutely no confidence in the Army permitting process.

“To allow Pebble to drive this permitting process makes absolutely no sense and defeats the purpose of a permitting process to begin with,” he said at the press conference. “(The) process should be testing their assumptions, not taking Pebble at it’s word. … Science drives the decision-making, not industry speculation, fantasies or good intentions. The Army Corps’ draft is the complete opposite — it ignores well documented data and is missing critical info. … Why are we lowering the bar to the lowest level possible? Alaska should be upholding strong standards and science-based permitting in all industries not just some.”

The group also took problem with the economic implications of the mine, saying that major mining companies would not invest in the project because it would not net enough profit if it was only open for 20 years, the period the DEIS draft uses.

“The economic world says this doesn’t work either,” said Rick Halford, a former Alaska legislator. “Everything they do is designed to get a permit, and the permit is going to be worthless. This mine is at least a mile deep and it’s the richest at depth and to mine your way down to the money and then stop is a ridiculous assumption.”

Former Alaska legislator Rick Halford, right, and Norman Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, present at a press conference against thePebble Mine project on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Former Alaska legislator Rick Halford, right, and Norman Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, present at a press conference against the Pebble Mine project on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

They change in the middle of the process, Halford said. “They came in with a number for the size of their small mine … within months they’ve increased that by 25 percent. They’re not bound by what they’re trying to get a permit on and they know it.”

During the committee presentation, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, said that there are more jobs at risk from potential effects of the mine than the mine itself would create. This comment came after Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, asked how many of the fishery jobs were held by workers from out of state.

[Capitol Live: Republicans look into agency over rifle sticker uproar]

“Forty-eight percent of Alaska’s salmon comes from the region, 14,000 direct jobs (at the fishery) compared to 750 jobs presented to us last week by Pebble Partnership,” Spohnholz said. “Even if only half of those go to year-round residents, that is a lot of jobs for a region in which people have lived for millenea. I think that’s a very important distinction to make.”

Rasmussen also asked, “Why are so many people migrating from Southeast Alaska?”

She said a number of families have migrated to her district from the area and that the Pebble Mine could support infrastructure that would slow this migration.

Van Vactor said people migrate for different reasons. He said if the Pebble Mine project were to go through it would be mostly workers who come in for a certain period of time just to work at the mine, more like oil field workers rather than longtime residents.

A big issue the scientists said they had with the EIS was that the timeline was way too short to evaluate risks and that a 100-year analysis would have been better than a 20-year one, because the tailings dam has a 1 in 5 chance of failing over a century.

“There’s a lack of confidence in the Army Corps permitting process as it relates to this EIS project,” Van Vactor said. “I would ask the hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans in the Midwest right now how much confidence they have in the Army Corps of Engineers certification process as it relates to the dams and levees that have failed and flooding that is happening throughout the U.S.”


• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@juneauempire.com.


More in News

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 at all-time high statewide

The state reported 5,759 new cases sequenced from Jan. 21-23

Volunteers serve food during Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file)
Project Homeless Connect to provide services, support on Wednesday

The event will be held at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Schools aim for business as usual as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate construction on hold as theater seeks additional funding

The new theater is projected to cost around $4.7 million.

Most Read