Corps plans draft EIS release in mid-February

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers anticipates that a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Pebble project will be released to the public in mid-February, with an official publication in the Federal Register on February 22 or first of March.

The Draft EIS is currently a “work in progress,” said USACE Project Manager Shane McCoy in a media call on Tuesday. The Corps and its third-party contractor, AECOM, are reviewing input from cooperating agencies, which include the State of Alaska, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, and the Advisory Council on Historic Properties, among others.

The body of the Draft EIS will be written in layperson’s terms, said McCoy, who is trying to keep it under 1,000 pages. Chapters cover topics typical for EIS documents, including “Purpose and Need,” “Alternatives,” “Affected Environment,” “Potential Impacts,” “Mitigation,” and “Participating Agencies.” Appendices will provide additional technical details.

An EIS is required during the permitting process for projects that will or may have significant impact on the environment. The process is outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. According to the “Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA,” the heart of the analysis is the evaluation of alternative ways of meeting the purpose and need of the proposed action.

The Corps has outlined alternatives for all components of the Pebble project, including its port, transportation corridor, mine site, and natural gas pipeline. According to guidelines, an EIS must also evaluate the impact of “no action” as another alternative – basically what impact there would be from not acting on the project proposal. If the Corps has a preferred alternative, it must identify it when the Draft EIS is released.

“The Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA” illustrates the NEPA process. After development of a Draft EIS, there is a public review and comment period, development and public availability of a Final EIS, and a Record of Decision (ROD).

Public Hearings

A 90-day public input period will follow the official release of the Draft EIS. During this time the Corps will hold public hearings in nine communities: Naknek, Kokhanok, Homer, Newhalen, New Stuyahok, Nondalton, Dillingham, Igiugig, and Anchorage.

The hearings are yet to be scheduled, but will occur no less than 30 days after the document’s official release – to give people time to “digest” the content of the document. Members of the public can comment at the hearings or through other methods – online or by mail. This puts the hearing timeframe in late March or April 2019, with the public comment period ending in late May/early June 2019.

Overall timeline

The Corps anticipates that it will release a Final EIS in early 2020, with a Record of Decision on the project within 90 days after that.