ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — More than 200 people took advantage of the final public hearing to give their comment on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed Pebble Mine project on Tuesday.
The hearing in Anchorage was the ninth public hearing and followed previous hearings in communities around Bristol Bay and Homer.
In total, the USACE has received more than 5,600 comments since the public comment period opened in February.
"The environmental impact process is part of the permit evaluation and we use this environmental impact statement to inform decisions," said Sheila Newman, USACE Regional Regulatory Deputy. "We review all comments individually and then what we do is we group those comments into themes, and from those themes we develop statements of concern depending on the resources that are involved and how we're analyzing."
Newman says that the coalesced statements of concern are then responded to in the final EIS. She says the Army Corps is neither in favor or nor opposed to the project — the USACE is tasked with making a decision on whether to issue permits under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act.
"The environmental impact statement is not a decision. It is a disclosure document to disclose to the public all of the positive and negative impacts that a proposal might have," Newman said. "In this case, Pebble Limited Partnership, who is a private applicant, submitted that permit application and the EIS is used to inform the Army's decisions."
Although all public hearings have ended, the public comment period continues through May 30. However, USACE has the ability to extend the comment period.
A common objection among opponents is that the 90-day comment period is inadequate given the extent of the draft EIS — its executive summary alone is 180 pages. When printed, the entire draft EIS stacks ten inches high.
"May 30 is the current date for the 90 day public comment review period. We have not made a decision whether or not to extend that further," Newman said. "We will likely make that decision about two-thirds of the way through the comment process which would be about the end of April, which is a normal process thing for us to do."
You can read more about the alternatives proposed and submit your comment on the draft EIS here.