ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — The Army Corps of Engineers released its draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Pebble Mine Wednesday morning.
The statement outlines plans for an open pit mine just west of Lake Illiamna, with infrastructure including a power generating plant that would use fuel from a 188-mile natural gas pipeline running from the Kenai Peninsula across Cook Inlet.
The proposed mining site would be just over 8,000 acres — a conventional drill, blast, truck and shovel operation.
The operation would yield an estimated 1.4 billion tons of mined material and leave a final footprint of just over 600 acres, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The USACE draft Environmental Impact Statement is a long-anticipated development for the Pebble Limited Partnership.
"This is a significant major milestone for the project," PLP Spokesman Mike Heatwole said.
The draft study details potential impacts of developing a copper and gold mine near a major Alaska fishery. While PLP says the work is a big step in the right direction, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay say they are outraged by what they say was a rushed environmental impact study, hurried along by order of the Trump Administration.
"It not only ignores any local concerns and the impact socially, culturally, and economically to the people of Bristol Bay, it completely ignores collective impacts of spills," UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley said. "It is very clear that this process is rigged in Pebble's favor."
But Heatwole says the draft statement demonstrates the Pebble Mine Project would be environmentally sustainable.
"For a long time, we've tried to get into this permitting process and have all of our technical information thoroughly and fairly evaluated, and that's the culmination that you see here today," Heatwole said. “PLP strongly believes it demonstrates that the proposed 20-year mine development plan for the Pebble deposit can be done in an environmentally responsible manner."
The statement includes three possible ways of doing the project, with each alternative requiring some mixture of pipeline, transportation corridors and ferry systems. There’s also a fourth alternative — a no-action alternative — under which the Pebble Project would not happen, but would not affect other remaining mining claims in the area.
In response to the release of the statement, a spokesperson for Gov. Dunleavy said the governor believes that Alaska plays an important role in developing mineral resources safely.
"Governor Dunleavey has said that like all natural resource development projects he would like to see the Pebble Project be allowed to follow the established permitting process. He says the outcome of that process will ultimately determine if the project meets the standards set forward in law and regulation."
The impact statement comes with a big disclaimer — all of the project alternatives have the potential for adverse direct impacts to cultural resources. The report outlines the possibility the project has to destroy, remove, or damage cultural resources — damage the report says can be irreversible.
The Corps will post a notice of availability in the Federal Register on March 1, which will kick off the 90-day comment period.
Comments can be submitted on the Pebble Environmental Impact Statement website and via handwritten mail addressed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 645 G St. Suite 100-921 Anchorage, AK 99501.
Nine public comment hearings will be held across the state on the draft EIS and permit application. You can find the schedule here.