2014

19 September 2014

Deadline for public comment

Comments on the Environmental Protection Agency's Proposed Determination -- which details restrictions for development of a large-scale mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska -- are due today by 8 pm Alaska Time.

More info

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11 September 2014

"Bristol Bay Forever Initiative"

"Bristol Bay Forever" is a public initiative that voters approved in November 2014. It requires legislative approval in order to develop a large-scale metallic sulfide mine within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

Opponents of the initiative have said they will bring legal challenges to "Bristol Bay Forever," contending that it is unconstitutional. See this PebbleWatch article or review proponent/opponent arguments in the "Alaska Common Ground" section below.

 

Documents

Proposed Bill Language

Attorney General Review of Petition

Language that appeared on the Ballot

 

Alaska Common Ground Forum

In August 2014, Alaska Common Ground featured "Bristol Bay Forever" in a debate series on public initiatives. Video/audio and original presentations from that debate are posted at the Alaska Common Ground website.

Video: Bristol Bay Forever public debate (courtesy Alaska Commons)

Audio: Bristol Bay Forever public debate (courtesy Alaska Integrated Media)

Edited audio version (Alaska Public.org)

Moderator Dick Mylius presentation

"Yes" advocate Anders Gustafson presentation

Opponent Deantha Crockett presentation

Opponent Richard Hughes presentation 

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08 September 2014

PLP's Tom Collier describes efforts to fight EPA

Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier says his company is “punching back” at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its efforts to employ a rarely used section of the Clean Water Act to place restrictions on mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay. Speaking at a Resource Development Council breakfast earlier this month, Collier described Pebble’s plans to fight EPA’s use of the 404(c) process, including litigation and lobbying for an investigation into how EPA went about creating its recent Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

EPA officials are currently reviewing hundreds of thousands of public comments on proposed restrictions for the area before it decides whether to drop the action or continue on with the next step in the 404(c) process - drafting a Recommended Determination.

Lawsuits against the EPA

Collier said PLP’s first offensive begins in the courts.

  • PLP filed suit against EPA in May 2014 in federal court questioning the agency's statutory authority to use the 404(c) process before PLP submits its permitting documents. Collier expects a ruling by October. Several other parties have intervened in the case, including: the state of Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula Corp. in support of PLP. Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Trustees;for Alaska (representing Nunamta Alukestai),Trout Unlimited and the National Resource Defense Council have intervened in support of the EPA.
  • In September, PLP filed a complaint alleging collusion between EPA and "anti-mining coalitions" that would violate regulations stipulated in the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Collier noted documents obtained from the EPA through a Freedom of Information Act request support PLP's allegations that anti-mining parties helped EPA write its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, gave advice to EPA on how to respond to Alaska Gov. Parnell, and held briefings directly with EPA's Region 10 Administrator.

Inspector General investigation- PLP made repeated requests and complaints to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding EPA's process conducting the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In May 2014 the OIG announced it would investigate whether the agency followed laws, regulations, policies and procedures when it developed the assessment. Collier indicated that a team of five EPA staff is working on the investigation.

Response to EPA’s Proposed Determination - A team of scientists and lawyers worked on PLP's response to EPA's Proposed Determination. Collier encouraged RDC attendees to respond as well.

Additional Plans - If none of these plans work, said Collier, he noted there are several more lined up to continue the fight, although he didn’t provide specifics.

Beyond Pebble? - Collier outlined what he said are EPA/environmental movement plans for “Zoning America,” with Pebble being the first step in the process. He noted tribes in Wisconsin and Michigan recently asked EPA to step in with 404(c) actions in their regions. "It lets EPA zone America for where mining should happen, where oil and gas exploration should happen - before anybody files a permit." He also referenced a comment from a friend who is a "giant in the environmental movement" who had said the country needs "broader watershed planning" rather than case-by-case decisions. "That's what the environmental community is up to. That's why they are doing this...It's already started. We're going to see this all over America and we are particularly going to see this in Alaska. And we've got to stop them."

Mount Polley - Collier also addressed the tailings dam breach in August at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia, Canada, calling it a disaster that would provide lessons for mining companies all over the world. He cautioned that it's too soon to draw any conclusions about the breach, which released billions of gallons of wastewater and slurry into the surrounding watershed. The Mount Polley Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) was not designed to contain the amount of water that had been added to it, said Collier. He explained that Pebble’s mine plan includes a wastewater treatment plant, which he said makes for an entirely different scenario. Collier said he anticipated an investigation on the breach to be complete before December.

Watch Collier's presentation

Read more

05 September 2014

EPA plans webinar overview of Proposed Determination

webinarThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scheduled online presentations Tuesday and Wednesday, during which agency staff will provide an overview of the Proposed Determination on restrictions at the Pebble deposit area in Bristol Bay.

This event is an additional way of learning more about the document before the public input period ends  on September 19. 

Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2-3 pm AK Time

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 8-9 am AK Time

For full details, visit EPA's Bristol Bay site.

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04 September 2014

2 weeks remain in public comment period for EPA restrictions in Bristol Bay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has received roughly 130,000 public comments on the Proposed Determination it released last month. This is in addition to testimony from nearly 300 people received during recent public meetings in Alaska.

Thousands of comments are coming in through mass-media campaigns run by advocacy groups on both sides of the issue, a trend that EPA is seeing more frequently, especially with social media making it easier for groups to get the word out.

This approach is what pushed the number of comments on EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment to historic proportions, at more than 1 million.

But according to a public comment tip sheet at regulations.gov, many in the public mistakenly believe that their submitted form letter constitutes a "vote" regarding the issues that concern them:

"Although public support or opposition may help guide important public policies, agencies make determinations for a proposed action based on sound reasoning and scientific evidence, not a majority of votes. A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters."

The convenience of supporting a position with the click of a button likely contributes to the popularity of the mass-media campaign.

However, a message that combines convenience with an individual message – either an addition
or other changes to a form letter – brings your own perspective to the comment. This could give your message greater weight in the overall conversation.

The public input period is open until 8 p.m. Alaska Time, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.

Check out these resources for more information:

Pebble Watch Overview of Proposed Determination

Pebble Watch Guide to Public Comments

Tips for Submitting Effective Comments

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26 August 2014

Commenting to the EPA: 11 questions

"A single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters." - "Tips for Submitting Effective Comments" at regulations.gov

The deadline for submitting comments on the EPA's Proposed Determination for restrictions in Bristol Bay is on September 19, 2014.

There are many ways to submit your input, including online at Regulations.gov (remember to add your name and contact information unless you want to submit anonymously).

Questions the EPA has posed to readers:

  1. Comments regarding whether the proposed determination should become the recommended determination and ultimately the final determination, and any corrective action that could be taken to reduce adverse impacts of discharges associated with mining the Pebble deposit.
  2. Additional information on the likely adverse impacts on fish and other ecological resources of the receiving waters that would be directly or indirectly affected by mining the Pebble deposit (including the South Fork Koktuli, North Fork Koktuli, and Upper Talarik Creek and downstream reaches of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers).
  3. Additional information on the water quality, flora, fauna, and hydrology of the waters identified in No. 2, above, and information on the fish species that would be affected by aquatic ecosystem changes if discharges from mining the Pebble deposit were to occur.
  4. Additional information about wildlife species that would be affected if discharges from mining the Pebble deposit were to occur.
  5. Additional information about recreational uses of the project area and how they would be affected if discharges from mining the Pebble deposit were to occur.
  6. Additional information about drinking water (including public water supplies and private sources of drinking water such as streams and/or wells) and how they would be affected if discharges from mining the Pebble deposit were to occur.
  7. Additional information on the potential for mitigation to be successful in reducing the impacts of mining the Pebble deposit.
  8. Comments regarding the approach used to define the potential disposal site, including how EPA Region 10 weighed the factors discussed in Section 2.2.3 and whether there are other factors or approaches EPA Region 10 should consider in defining the potential disposal site.
  9. Whether the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble deposit should be completely prohibited, restricted as proposed, restricted in another manner, or not restricted at all at this time. In particular, EPA Region 10 is seeking comment on whether environmental effects associated with other mine stages or scenarios (e.g., environmental effects from mining approximately 2.0 billion tons of ore over 25 years) could provide a basis for alternative or additional restrictions.
  10. Comments on the definitions of "loss," "contiguous," and "dewatering," provided in Section 5 (p. 168).
  11. Comments on whether and how EPA Region 10’s proposed action under Section 404(c) should consider discharge of dredged or fill materials beyond those associated with the min pit, TSFs, and waste rock piles and include such discharges associated with the construction of other mine infrastructure (e.g., wastewater treatment plants, transportation corridors).

Read the Pebble Watch overview of the Proposed Determination

Read our guide to public comment for the Proposed Determination

Read more

25 August 2014

Tailings pond breach at Canada mine puts safety at the forefront of Pebble discussion

The Pebble Partnership in the past has pointed to western Canada’s Fraser River watershed as an example of mining and healthy fisheries successfully co-existing. But earlier this month a tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine failed and discharged contaminants with an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of waste water and 1.3 billion cubic yards of tailings into the watershed in the Polley Lake/Hazeltine Creek area, a tributary of the Fraser River. (Photo still below from aerial footage taken by Cariboo Regional District.)

Polly-sm

While currently stabilized, the breach had not been entirely contained as of Aug. 25, and its cause is still unknown. Investigations into the cause will reportedly take several months.

According to a fact sheet from government officials, debris build-up from the spill has caused an unstable blockage at Polley Lake, which could result in another breach.

Communities in the area were initially advised not to use the water for drinking or bathing while water tests were conducted. Most tests came back within normal levels, so officials rescinded the ban for all but those in the impact zone directly affected by the breach. However, the sediment plume in Quesnel Lake has been moving, so residents who get their water from the lake have been advised to filter out the sediment.

The timing of the breach coincides with the annual salmon runs to the Fraser River. This year’s salmon run has been greatly anticipated, since they are the spawn from an abundant 2010 run. This is normally the busiest time of the year for catching and preparing fish for winter and local officials were concerned that salmon might be affected by the tailings pond breach. 

mapPolleyCanada's Interior Health Department issued a statement Aug. 12 deeming all fish outside the "Do Not Use" water advisory as safe for human consumption. According to government officials, "the tailings liquid initially released from the impoundment moved very quickly through the system and was diluted greatly by the water in [Quesnal] lake, the Quesnel River and ultimately the Fraser River. As such, fish exposure was limited and not long enough for uptake into tissues."

However, the Ministry of Environment will continue to conduct long-term sampling of several fish species. Additionally, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) staff will conduct salmon tissue sampling in the confluence areas of the Quesnel and Fraser rivers. Those samples will be compared with salmon from last year to determine whether there are any negative effects from the breach.

One impact of the breach includes the loss of 42 mining jobs, many held by local residents. Other locals have been able to find work on cleanup crews.

Mount Polley, one of several large open-pit mines in the Fraser River watershed, is a copper-gold mine owned by Imperial Metals Corp. Its tailing ponds were designed by Knight Piésold, an engineering firm that, according to the Pebble Partnership, is part of a “world-class mine development team” assembled to “design and permit the Pebble Project.”

Knight Piésold, the initial Engineer of Record for the tailings dam, posted a statement Aug. 8 on its website saying the company has not been involved in the Mount Polley project since February of 2011. The company is backing away from responsibility for the tailings storage facility, maintaining that, "Significant engineering and design changes were made subsequent to our involvement, such that the tailings storage facility can no longer be considered a Knight Piésold Ltd. design.”

Government officials had repeatedly issued warnings to Imperial Metals regarding the height of water in the tailings pond, most recently in May.

Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO Tom Collier addressed the Mount Polley breach Aug. 12 during comments he made to the EPA regarding proposed restrictions on disposal of dredge/fill materials at the Pebble site in Bristol Bay. He cautioned against jumping to conclusions for either the cause of the Mount Polley breach or the impact it may have on salmon or the mining industry going forward, saying that PLP has called for scientific studies for both the root cause and for impacts to the Fraser river salmon fishery. 

The Government of British Columbia, with support of the Soda Creek Williams Lake Indian Bands, has ordered an independent engineering investigation and inquiry regarding the breach, as well as third-party reviews of dam safety inspections for all permitted tailings ponds in British Columbia. The independent panel appointed to lead the investigation includes Dirk Van Zyl, a professor at the University of British Columbia who also served as a peer reviewer for EPA’s recent Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

Additional investigations are being conducted by Imperial Metals Corp., the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), and the Ministry of Environment (MoE).

As more details emerge from the Mount Polley tailings breach, it does offer additional context for discussing the proposed Pebble mine, now and during any future permitting phase:

  • How can safety standards be ensured long-term if tailings storage facility (TSF) engineers change? Who is ultimately responsible? Is there a public process involved when the Engineer of Record changes?
  • The Mount Polly breach was unexpected and authorities/mine owners do not know what caused it. What kind of safe guards will Pebble developers put into place to “expect the unexpected”?
  • Aftermath of the Mount Polley breach requires engineering to stop the flow of waste material, as well as emergency management, public information, and water quality testing. What emergency action plans would ensure a quick and efficient response at the Pebble site?

Before and after aerial view of Mount Polley mine (NASA Earth observatory)

Pebble Partnership tv ad – Fraser River

Knight Piesold part of Pebble’s mine development team

Fact Sheets: Mount Polley mine incident

 

More news reports:

Dam failure: Toxic mine wastes dumped into Fraser River watershed

Mount Polley mine tailings breach followed years of government warnings

Production boost preceded tailings breach at Mount Polley

Tribes deeply concerned for Frasier River salmon

First Nations health officials start salmon testing after B.C. mine spill

B.C. mining company pumping water from lake to prevent second tailings blowout

Mount Polley mine spill, an aerial view

 

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15 August 2014

EPA public meetings in Iliamna and Igiugig on proposed Bristol Bay restrictions

Members of the public can comment in person on EPA's Proposed Determination - a document that details its recommended restrictions on large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay.

The Iliamna and Igiugig public meetings are scheduled for 12 noon on August 15.

Iliamna: Friday, August 15 at 12pm, Community Center

Igiugig: Friday, August 15 at 12pm, Tribal Hall

 

Additional meetings will be held in these communities:

Anchorage: Tuesday, August 12 at 2pm, Egan Center

New Stuyahok: Wednesday, August 13 at 5pm, Cetuyaraq Community Center

Nondalton: Wednesday, August 13 at 5pm, Nondalton Community Center

Kokhanok: Thursday, August 14, 5pm, Community Center

Dillingham: Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 pm, Middle School Gymnasium 

 

Questions to consider

EPA has provided the following questions to consider for those wishing to provide comments:

  • Do you think the Proposed Determination should be recommended and finalized? Why or why not?
  • Do you have additional information on potential impacts on the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds, and downstream reaches of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers resulting from mining of the Pebble deposit?  Specifically information about: 

    • Fish and other ecological resources
    • Water quality, flora, fauna and hydrology
    • Wildlife species
    • Recreation
    • Drinking water
  • Can you suggest potential mitigation actions that could compensate for the damage caused by mining the Pebble deposit?
  • Should the discharge of dredged or fill material be completely prohibited, restricted as proposed, restricted in another manner or not restricted at all at this time?

 

 

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14 August 2014

EPA public meetings in Kokhanok and Dillingham on proposed Bristol Bay restrictions

Members of the public can comment in person on EPA's Proposed Determination - a document that details its recommended restrictions on large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay.

The Kokhanok and Dillingham public meetings are scheduled for 5 pm on August 14.

 

Kokhanok: Thursday, August 14, 5pm
Community Center

 

Dillingham: Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 pm
Middle School Gymnasium 

 

Additional meetings will be held in these communities:

Anchorage: Tuesday, August 12 at 2pm, Egan Center

New Stuyahok: Wednesday, August 13 at 5pm, Cetuyaraq Community Center

Nondalton: Wednesday, August 13 at 5pm, Nondalton Community Center

Iliamna: Friday, August 15 at 12pm, Community Center

Igiugig: Friday, August 15 at 12pm, Tribal Hall

 

Questions to consider

EPA has provided the following questions to consider for those wishing to provide comments:

  • Do you think the Proposed Determination should be recommended and finalized? Why or why not?
  • Do you have additional information on potential impacts on the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds, and downstream reaches of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers resulting from mining of the Pebble deposit?  Specifically information about: 

    • Fish and other ecological resources
    • Water quality, flora, fauna and hydrology
    • Wildlife species
    • Recreation
    • Drinking water
  • Can you suggest potential mitigation actions that could compensate for the damage caused by mining the Pebble deposit?
  • Should the discharge of dredged or fill material be completely prohibited, restricted as proposed, restricted in another manner or not restricted at all at this time?

 

 

Read more

13 August 2014

EPA public meetings in New Stuyahok and Nondalton on proposed Bristol Bay restrictions

Members of the public can comment in person on EPA's Proposed Determination - a document that details its recommended restrictions on large-scale mining at the Pebble deposit in Bristol Bay.

The New Stuyahok and Nondalton public meetings are scheduled for 5 pm on August 13.

New Stuyahok: Cetuyaraq Community Center

Nondalton: Nondalton Community Center  

Additional meetings will be held in these communities:

Anchorage: Tuesday, August 12 at 2pm
Egan Center

Kokhanok: Thursday, August 14, 5pm
Community Center

Dillingham: Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 pm
Middle School Gymnasium

Iliamna: Friday, August 15 at 12pm
Community Center

Igiugig: Friday, August 15 at 12pm
Tribal Hall

Questions to consider

EPA has provided the following questions to consider for those wishing to provide comments:

  • Do you think the Proposed Determination should be recommended and finalized? Why or why not?
  • Do you have additional information on potential impacts on the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds, and downstream reaches of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers resulting from mining of the Pebble deposit?  Specifically information about: 

    • Fish and other ecological resources
    • Water quality, flora, fauna and hydrology
    • Wildlife species
    • Recreation
    • Drinking water
  • Can you suggest potential mitigation actions that could compensate for the damage caused by mining the Pebble deposit?
  • Should the discharge of dredged or fill material be completely prohibited, restricted as proposed, restricted in another manner or not restricted at all at this time?

 

 

Read more