In a March 14 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers submitted during the official public comment period for the Pebble Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which is part of the federal permitting process, the Alaska State Senate Majority made clear its support of the proposed Pebble mine:
“The USACE DEIS for the Pebble Project is a comprehensive document and includes a significant number of findings that should provide confidence that the Pebble Project has undergone a rigorous and thorough review…. The time has come for responsible development without unnecessary delay.”
However, additional permitting and review of tailings dam engineering is required for a complete process.
The Corps’ 404 permit is one of dozens of federal, state and local permits necessary for the project. Developers anticipate it will take up to 2.5 years to acquire these other permits once the process has begun. These would include a State of Alaska Dam Safety Certification for the tailings dam, which requires a detailed engineering review of the dam’s design and operation above and beyond what is required during federal 404 permitting.
According to Corps of Engineers’ Project Manager Shane McCoy, the State of Alaska has a much higher bar than the Corps for tailings dam design. In an October 2018 Media Roundtable, he noted, “Their level of design for the impound structure is much higher than what is required for us. Again, our jurisdiction lies within discharge dredge and fill materials in the waters of the US and we are not the dam experts…”
90-day Review Period
The Senate Majority letter also argues against extending the current 90-day review public input period, stating, “The Pebble project has been analyzed and debated for years, through multiple federal and state administrations. The process and permitting is rigorous. It’s time to start meaningfully moving forward.”
For years developers asked the public and agencies to wait for a mine plan before making a determination on the project. The mine plan was made public in November 2017. The public input period that is currently ongoing (from March 1 to May 30, 2019), is the first occasion for any analysis or comment on the specific project proposal submitted for development. There is no official debate of the project as submitted, as that is not a part of the permitting process.
Aside from the Keystone Independent Science Panels held in 2012, the only analysis of the Environmental Baseline Document that underpins the DEIS occurred as part of the Corps’ own development of the DEIS. That is what stakeholders are currently reviewing, and is one reason many Bristol Bay entities have argued for more than a 90-day comment period.
The Senate Majority recently conducted a poll of Alaskans that included this question on Pebble: “If all environmental safeguards are met, do you support or oppose development of Pebble mine?” Of 7,461 responses, 26% strongly support, 13% somewhat support, 11% somewhat oppose, and 50% strongly oppose.