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Corp’s EIS on Pebble Mine Now to be Released at Peak of 2020 Bristol Bay Sockeye Season

December 31, 2019

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a delay of three months before the release of their final environmental impact statement on Pebble Mine, putting the release in the middle of the 2020 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon season.

“The delay is caused by us deciding that we needed more time to refine our analysis, and to finalize the respond to the concerns raised through the public comment period,” said Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the regulatory division of the Corps.

That puts release of the final EIS on the proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, in late June or early July, traditionally the peak of the salmon harvest and the world’s largest run of wild red salmon, reported Margaret Bauman in The Cordova Times late last week.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a run of nearly 49 million sockeyes in 2020, with a harvest of over 46 million fish in Bristol Bay and the South Alaska Peninsula, Bauman reported.

The irony of a three-month extension that will now come during the busiest ten days of Bristol Bay is not lost on Katherine Carscallen, a Dillingham harvester and spokesperson for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.

“Ninety days at the very end of the process is not going to fix the flaws that we have identified,” Carscallen said. “They are not responding to our concerns. This is the most important issue our state is facing, and they are going to give us 90 more days with zero more days or public comment,” she said.

The extended time for delivery of the final EIS also pushed back release of the Corps’ record of decision another 30 to 60 days, so that document is now expected by the fall of 2020.

The Corps’ announcement comes on the heels of an extensive report from CNN detailing how Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy collaborated to lobby the Trump administration to push forward with the mine project, which the Environmental Protection Agency warned could have a devastating impact on the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, with offices in Anchorage, is owned by Northern Dynasty, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson, a diversified, global mining group in Vancouver, British Columbia.

CNN reporters documented with emails the news agency obtained how Dunleavy’s office was give detailed talking points, ghostwritten letters and advice on lobbying by the Pebble Partnership. Dunleavy’s office then used that information, sometimes using the PLP’s language word for word, in an effort that culminated in President Trump promising favorable action on the mine, according to the emails, CNN said.

They cited as a striking example Dunleavy’s use of Pebble’s language in an official letter that the governor sent to the USACE about the length of a public comment period on the mine’s draft EIS.  The emails show that Dunleavy’s letter was a verbatim copy of a draft sent to his aide by Pebble’s chief of staff, except for a few phrases, CNN reported.

When asked by Juneau Empire reporter Peter Segall about the nearly-verbatim letter late last week, Dunleavy said there was always review of information from parties on both sides of an issue.

“The assumption that’s it’s verbatim — I don’t necessarily agree that it’s verbatim,” Dunleavy said.

“The whole thing is extremely ironic,” Nelli Williams, Alaska Director of Trout Unlimited told the Juneau Empire.

“He’s telling Alaskans to trust the process, but behind the scenes he’s working with a heavy hand to support Pebble. It makes me wonder who the governor has in mind when he’s making these decisions. Is it Alaskans, or is it a foreign owned mining company?”

“If this sort of coordination is truly happening, it is staggering the administration would allow the State of Alaska to be involved in this manner,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said in a statement.

Pebble found an ally in Dunleavy, who has since his election in December 2018 has called on the Trump administration to lift the preemptive veto that blocked the mine, CNN reported.

Dunleavy met with Trump in Anchorage during an Air force One stop on June 28, the same day that the EPA publicly announced plans to consider withdrawing its ban on the mine.  While the EPA announcement said only that the EPA would consider lifting the block, documents obtained from Dunleavy’s office via a public records request show that a Pebble staffer insisted “the governor was promised” a favorable outcome by Trump, according to the CNN report.

“Bristol Bay’s fishermen were outraged to learn that Alaska’s own governor has become a puppet for the Pebble Partnership and is willing to betray his fellow Alaskans for Pebble’s benefit,” Carscallen said, in a statement released in the wake of the CNN report.

“We are consistently seeing undeniable evidence surface from investigative reporting that the corrupt politics of Alaska’s Governor Dunleavy and the Trump administration have guided the Pebble permitting process to date,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tirbes of Bristol Bay.

“The fact that we are on the precipice of a release of a final EIS and permitting decision in 2020 that will be based on a universally condemned process wrought with state and federal corruption is extremely alarming,” she said.

In the Appropriations Package for Fiscal Year 2020, passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump on Dec. 20, Alaska’s senior senator Lisa Murkowski included a stern warning to the Corp about their draft EIS.

“The bill also recognizes the importance of the Bristol Bay ecosystem and the concerns the EPA, Department of the Interior, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the State of Alaska and independent experts have raised with regard to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Pebble Mine,” Murkowski said in the press release. “The bill reaffirms that sound science must drive the permitting process and that if the concerns raised by the agencies cannot be answered within the process, then the agencies should exercise their authority to protect the region’s world-class salmon fisheries.”

Peggy Parker