The public comment period for the proposed Pebble Mine’s draft environmental impact statement closed yesterday. It marks the end of the final opportunity for the public to weigh in on the federal permitting process for the mine.
More than 94,000 comments were submitted over the 120-day period, and that number will likely climb as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers updates the public's final submissions.
The comment window was originally 90 days, but the Army Corps extended it to July first.
Opponents of the project have expressed frustration that new information is being added without time to weigh in. Rick Halford is a former state senator, and a longtime opponent of the mine. Among his main concerns with the current proposal is the project’s impact on the Upper Talarik Creek, a drainage near the proposed mine site.
"They describe their project as straddling the drainages of the South Fork and the Upper Talarik Creek," Halford said. "You can’t dig a 17- or 1,800-foot-deep hole at the edge of the creek and expect the creek not to run into it.”
The executive summary of the draft points to evidence of groundwater exchange between drainage basins from the South Fork Koktuli River to the Upper Talarik Creek Tributary, noting that there is limited hydrogeologic data from that area.
Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole said the company moved all major mining facilities out of the Upper Talarik Creek watershed in its application to the corps. However, an access road to the mine site would still traverse that drainage. The southern half would run along First Creek, which drains into the main Upper Talerik drainage.
"The pit will pull some water in from Upper Talarik that is part of our strategic water release plan that gets returned once it’s been run through the process plant and treated and meets the discharge requirements the state sets for water discharge,” Heatwole said.
Over the next few months, Pebble will conduct routine work on drill holes – according to Heatwole, several are seeping water and still require maintenance. It will also continue to gather environmental data, including wetlands mapping near Kokhanok, one of the communities closest to the mine.
Another point of contention was land access around the mine site. Pebble struck a deal with the Alaska Peninsula Corporation last November, and another with Iliamna Natives Limited in May. Those agreements meant that certain transportation routes were more feasible. But the corps’ alternatives also include roads through land that belongs to Pedro Bay and Igiugig Native Corporations. On Sunday, INC issued a comment effectively removing its lands from consideration, stating that increased barge and transportation along the northern corridor will have a direct impact on the corporation’s operations at Diamond Point, one of the proposed ports.
The Army Corps has said in the past that because it had not received a formal statement from those corporations, it still considered those to be feasible alternatives. It is scheduled to release the final EIS in early 2020.
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