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 the	Pebble 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 the	Pebble 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

A young volunteer chases three piglets named Mary Hamkins, Petunia and Sir Oinks-a-lot through a race during the pig races at the Kenai Peninsula Fair on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Kenai Peninsula Fair canceled this year

Cotton candy, carnival rides and racing pigs will have to wait for… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image CDC)
State reports new 30 new cases; hospitalizations reach new high

The cases include 28 residents and two nonresidents.

photos by Megan Pacer / Homer News 
                                A youth rider takes a turn riding a bull calf during the 60th annual Ninilchik Rodeo on Saturday, July 4 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik. The rodeo lasted throughout the July Fourth holiday and celebrated a return to the event’s roots.
Riding high in Ninilchik

Ninilchik Rodeo celebrates 60 years with events new and old.

A closed sign is posted at a retail store shuttered due to the new coronavirus, in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to vote on relief funds for businesses, nonprofits

CARES Relief and Recovery Grant funds would be rolled out in two phases.

COVID-19. (Image CDC)
Case count dips after 5 record days of positive cases

Alaska has had 1,338 cases of the disease since the state began tracking the pandemic in March.

An adult, female bald eagle was rescued from a tree Saturday in Juneau. The eagle was taken to Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Kerry Howard)
Juneau bald eagle rescued on Fourth of July

Injured but conscious, the raptor will get treatment in Sitka.

Robin Richardson, right, and her coworker Ellen Paffie from Georgia get ready for the night shift at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York on May 7, 2020. (Photo courtesy Robin Richardson)
Soldotna nurse joins COVID-19 fight at New York hospital

Richardson cared for 53 critically ill COVID-19 patients. Only two of those patients lived.

COVID-19. (Image CDC)
COVID-19 week in review: Case count jumps; new hospitalizations, deaths reported

The current average positivity rate for all tests conducted is 1.39%.

‘Crowning jewel’

Iron Mike statue unveiled at Soldotna Creek Park

Most Read