ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - One week ago, the Pebble Partnership unveiled a draft plan for mitigating the potential impacts of a proposed copper and gold mine in Southwest Alaska. The company says that just under 5 square miles of wetlands would be affected, with nearly 70% of that land facing irreversible changes. To combat the side effects of opening the mine, Pebble is focusing on three strategic projects related to it's impact on the region - which is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.
"In our review of some other projects up here, we looked at creative ways that we could, within the watershed, improve upon upon fish habitat and water resources within the areas that we will affect," said Mike Heatwole, a spokesperson for the Pebble Partnership.
The three specific areas that Pebble plans to address will be: Improving the water treatment facilities in Newhalen, Nondalton, & Kokhanok- Clearing roughly 7 miles of coastline on the western side of the Cook Inlet- and improving accessibility for over 8.5 miles of salmon habitat to compensate for the streams expected to be affected by the mine.
Days after the publishing of Pebble's mitigation plans, the preliminary version of a final environmental impact statement drew criticism from multiple groups who stand in opposition to the mine. Many of these organizations feel that the ACOE has rushed the process, ignoring important data and research regarding the impacts that the mine could have on Bristol Bay's salmon.
Alannah Hurley, Executive Director of the United tribes of Bristol Bay, says that offers of basic necessities like adequate water systems will not sway her opinions about protecting the Bristol Bay fishery at all costs.
"The fact that the company itself is talking about irreversible damage is very telling and clear," she told KTUU on Thursday. "If they wanted to help, they would have been gone years ago. We've been dealing with broken promises and being harassed by this company for over a decade"
With large portions of the state of Alaska covered by wetlands, large scale operations like the proposed mine often draw negative reactions. Heatwole says in the case of Pebble, the opponents that have taken a stance against the project have actually helped the company to improve its overall proposal. He says Pebble's goal has been to meet the criteria for development and to be able to coexist with the fishery, based off of issues of concern that were raised throughout the permitting process."
"We believe we have met that challenge and it's on solid founding of technical and environment information," he said. "Coinciding with that is the tremendous economic opportunity this could be for communities, particularly those closest to the project.
All published Army Corps of Engineers findings and materials related to Pebble Mine can be found HERE.