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Pebble is one step closer to a federal permit; supporters and critics respond

Aug 4, 2020

A digital simulation of what the proposed Pebble Mine's foundation will look like if it receives a federal permit. (Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Pebble Limited Partnership is one step away from a federal permit for the proposed Pebble Mine, a deeply controversial development that would tap large copper and gold deposits at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. 

Pebble CEO Tom Collier thinks the finished Environmental Impact Statement shows the mine can be built without harming the environment.

Abe Williams, left, director of regional affairs for The Pebble Partnership, listens as Pebble CEO Tom Collier answers questions during an Institute of Journalism and Natural Resources roundtable in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

“The final EIS is the first time that a federal agency has engaged in a rigorous review of the specific plan that we intend to use to build this project," Collier said. "After doing that, in the draft and preliminary final, they concluded that the project won’t damage the fishery.” 

The report says up to 200 miles of streams and 4,000 acres of wetlands will be impacted by construction of the mine. 

Iliamna Natives Limited board membr Lisa Reimers supports Pebble’s development, and says the EIS provides enough safeguards to protect the environment around the project. Reimers says this affects her on a personal level as well.

“My mom just passed. Her and my dad they’ve both passed now, but they were both big supporters of resource development," Reimers said. "They thought their families should work. This is a good project, and we want to see something positive happen out in the area. We don’t see any projects coming down the pipeline that would help the area and make it grow, so people can continue to live out there and prosper.”

The Army Corps’ preferred transportation route is the northern alternate route. With this route, no ferry will cross Lake Iliamna, but the review says the route will damage fish streams and other water bodies.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation’s president and CEO Jason Metrokin says the report fails to really address these concerns.

“The final EIS is really no different," Metrokin said. "To have such significant changes during the process and the later weeks and months of the process just goes to show, at least in our opinion, that the process seems like it's focused on a political timeline rather than a regulatory timeline.”

The Native corporation owns subsurface rights to land the northern route will transect.The corporation objects to any use of that land to build the mine. 

The northern route would also require access to land owned by Igiugig Village Council, and it would cut through the Diamond Point Rock Quarry. Village council member Christina Salmon manages the quarry. 

“Pebble has zero right to overstep anything," Salmon said. "Diamond Point Rock Quarry is owned wholly by Igiugig Village Council. We’re a sovereign nation. They can’t bring us to court to overrule us on property that a sovereign nation owns. Their confidence that they can work with the landowners was laughable at the least.”

Opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine are cheering an amendment the U.S. House of Representatives approved July 30, 2020, that would block a final decision on the controversial copper and gold mine that would be developed upstream from Bristol Bay. 

The anti-Pebble measure passed as part of a bill that funds a large part of the federal government. But the amendment is unlikely to become law. Environmental riders from the House typically don’t survive negotiations with the Senate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a final decision on Pebble’s federal permits as early as August or September.

Editor's note: Alaska Public Media's Liz Ruskin contributed to this report.