The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Friday, April 6, that the public would have an additional 60 days to offer feedback, suggestions and concerns on the review of Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposal to develop a copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Setting aside the irony that public comment on this project opened on April Fool’s Day, the feedback window was originally slated for a 30-day period ahead of the corps’ environmental review of the project. Andy Mack, commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, suggested an extension of 90 to 120 days. The public now has until June 29 to submit comments.

“This extension would not have happened without the powerful letters from industry leaders like Pacific Seafood Processors Association, National Fisheries Institute, and the more than 100 business members that signed onto the Businesses for Bristol Bay letter delivered last week,” said a release from Businesses for Bristol Bay on Monday, April 9.

Opponents have been fighting the mine proposal for the better part of two decades in an effort to protect the renewable resource of returning salmon from potential toxic byproducts of heavy-metal mining. The area happens to be the location of the world’s most productive wild salmon streams.

Bristol Bay’s topography is porous and marshy, unlike that of most other metals mines in rocky terrain. It also is in the Ring of Fire — an active earthquake zone — further complicating the containment of toxic mining byproduct.

Shortly after taking office in the summer of 2017, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt drew down Obama-era EPA regulations, which allowed the agency to resolve a lawsuit from the mining interest and paved the way for the Pebble partnership to submit a permit and a plan for its mine.

However, shortly after those plans were submitted to the corps, Pruitt made an about-face and reinstated the EPA restrictions to protect Bristol Bay.  The restrictions do not prevent the partnership from filing a plan or preceding with its application. They do, however, create stricter parameters for extraction in the region.

Pruitt is now beleaguered by potential ethics violations related to his spending habits, which White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Monday were being reviewed. It seems likely that EPA’s stance on Pebble Mine could shift again if Pruitt is replaced.

Submit your comment online at Pebble Project EIS.

Mail comments to:
Program Manager, Regulatory Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
PO Box 6898
Joint Base Elmendorf
Richardson, AK 99506-0898

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 16 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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