The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Pebble Mine's draft environmental impact statement on Wednesday, one of the biggest stepping stones in the permitting process for the proposed copper-and-gold mine near the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

The purpose of the draft EIS is to analyze the project’s proposal and present alternative plans. The environmental review, totaling more than 1,400 pages, the Army Corps proposes multiple actions including an analysis of permitting the mine, alternate transportation corridors and rejecting the mine proposal altogether.

A 90-day public comment period will begin March 1, allowing stakeholders to give their thoughts on the report before a final version is delivered to federal agencies. Opponents of the mine are pushing back against the comment period, claiming in isn't a long enough timeline for thorough feedback.

"A 90-day comment period is far too short of a time period to review and comment on the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement," said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. "The speed at which insufficient materials are being pushed through this mine’s permitting process is irresponsible given that the Bristol Bay salmon ecosystem is a biological wonder of the world. This region contains the world’s largest wild salmon runs, which have supported a rich culture for millennia and sustained a thriving commercial fishery for more than 130 years."

"A 270-day comment period on the Draft EIS is the first – and necessary – step in holding the Pebble Limited Partnership accountable during the permitting process," said Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO Jason Metrokin. "Bristol Bay cannot become a laboratory to test unproven and unprecedented mining practices."

In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Army Corps Program Manager Shane McCoy made suggestions to the public on reviewing the document.

"A lot of the technical stuff is going to be in the appendices," he said. "Chapter three is the effective environment - baseline. Chapter four is environmental impacts. I would point people to start with the executive summary, which I believe is 80 pages or so, and it’s a higher level, and then dive down deep into the subsequent sections and chapters.”

While the draft report has been available for less than 24 hours, fishing industry stakeholders are already unimpressed with its contents.

"While we are still digesting the technical materials in the DEIS, immediate problems stand out. The document is riddled with pro-Pebble bias," wrote the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay coalition in an email to its membership. "For instance, when discussing social and economic impacts, the Army Corps focuses on the importance of copper to the global economy over the importance of renewable subsistence resources to Alaskans. The DEIS fails to even address the prospect of a catastrophic tailings dam failure, which is the single-largest danger associated with Pebble. Earthen tailings dams fail all the time. The firm that designed the Pebble dam was responsible for Mount Polley Mine’s dam, which failed in 2014."

“It completely omits local concerns and doesn’t take seriously many of the impacts that our people would feel from this project," said Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. "It completely ignores collective impacts of any potential spills, of tailings failure. The fact that the Army Corps would even put this out, and call it a draft EIS at this point is so astounding, and insulting to the people of Bristol Bay.”

The response from Pebble Limited Partnership was simple, suggesting the draft is proof that the mine is well on its way to being a reality.

"We see no significant environmental challenges that would preclude the project from getting a permit and this shows Alaska stakeholders that there is a clear path forward for this project that could potentially generate significant economic activity, tax revenue and thousands of jobs," said CEO Tom Collier in a statement.

McCoy said that the Army Corps would take all public comments into consideration before it releases the final EIS, estimated for early 2020.

Comments can be submitted on the Army Corps website or by mail. can comment on the draft online via the USACE's website or by mail. There will also be nine public hearings as part of the public comment period. The first meeting takes place March 25 in Naknek.


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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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