Corps won’t require more fieldwork for final Pebble mine report

Two activists hold anti-Pebble Mine posters in a back row of the Wendy Williamson Auditorium during an EPA public comment meeting on the Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.
Activists hold anti-Pebble Mine posters at an EPA meeting in 2012. Photo by Daysha Eaton.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday it will delay its final environmental review of the proposed Pebble Mine for three months. But the Corps will not perform any more fieldwork, and it won’t issue a supplement to its draft report, even though multiple state and federal departments have said the report lacks critical information.

Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the Corps’ regulatory division in Alaska, said her agency will use the extra time to respond to concerns raised during the public comment period.

“We’re making sure that the answers are thorough and well understood,” she said.

The Corps is the lead agency preparing the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed mine in southwest Alaska. The Pebble Partnership says the gold mine would provide as many as a thousand jobs. Opponents say the mine risks polluting salmon streams and threatens the huge Bristol Bay commercial fishery.

Newman, in a phone call with reporters, downplayed the Corps’ role. She said her agency has no authority over things like how Pebble plans to operate the mine or how it will restore the land once the mine shuts down. 

“Most of the fieldwork that will be required in the future, if this project goes forward, falls under the direct authority of the State of Alaska, not the federal government,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said the response is disappointing. Lindsey Bloom said it sounds like the Corps has no intention of using the delay to fill the information gaps other agencies identified.

“That is exactly what I heard: ‘We’re going to take 90 days, to try to explain ourselves better, without doing any more work, collecting any more data, or being any more thorough,'” Bloom said.

Congress passed a bill last week with a section authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski that essentially tells the Corps it has to thoroughly address potential impacts of the mine and address the concerns of other government agencies, even if that means additional study. 

Related: Murkowski finds EPA criticism of Pebble substantial

Newman, from the Corps, said the new timeline came out of six days of technical meetings with other agencies cooperating on the environmental review. She said the final report is now expected in late June or early July, with a final permitting decision likely a month or two later. 

A Pebble spokesman said the Corps is doing a thorough review and the mining company is not worried about the 90-day delay.