Pebble ditches ferry route; northern road is now the preferred transportation corridor

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed in a media advisory last week that it has made a preliminary decision on a Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA) for the Pebble project. That LEDPA hasn’t been entirely spelled out to the public, but major components mirror those evaluated under “Alternative 3 – North Road Only.” This LEDPA excludes a port site at Amakdedori, and eliminates a ferry crossing over Iliamna Lake. It includes an 84-mile road with adjacent pipeline that would carry concentrate from the mine site to a port at Diamond Point.

A few notes about the northern route…

  • For developers and investors, the northern route is more preferable in the long-run, as it is the only alternative that works with an expanded mine scenario. While the permit application under review is based on a 20-year mine life, developers have consistently touted the larger deposit to investors. They note that expansion could be possible once they gain social license from the public through successful operation of the 20-year plan.
  • However, there are existing land access issues for all the alternatives, including the northern route. Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) owns surface and subsurface land along the route and has said it will not give access to developers. In a May 21 letter to the Corps, BBNC demanded that “the Corps remove from consideration all alternatives that would require use of its subsurface or surface estate, as our lands are not available to PLP.” The Corps maintains that land ownership issues would be dealt with by the applicant once the Corps completes its review process. 
  • Over the course of the permitting process, project opponents have been focused on potential impacts related to the initial project plan, which is still highlighted on the Corps’ website. This plan included a port at Amakdedori Creek/Kamishak Bay, a road near McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, and a ferry crossing over Iliamna Lake. Opponents, including BBNC, say that the northern route has not been fully analyzed and that its selection just weeks before the final Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released does not give the public or cooperating agencies an opportunity to weigh in. The Corps says the public comment period is over and that all alternatives have been fully analyzed.
Land Status Map provided by Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This map illustrates Pebble mine project alternatives analyzed by the Corps as part of the federal permitting process. The northern route, Alternative 3, is highlighted in pink. Red and yellow areas show subsurface and surface estate owned by BBNC and not accessible to developers.