Anchorage hosts last hearing on Pebble Mine environmental statement
Hundreds of Anchorage residents got a chance to speak their minds Tuesday about a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay.
The downtown hearing at the Dena'ina Center was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' last stop for public comment on the statement, after eight other public hearings held throughout the state. The hearings will help determine whether the Corps issues Pebble the federal permits it needs to move forward.
Many in Tuesday's crowd expressed concerns not only about the mine, but also about the science used to draw conclusions in the impact statement which they said minimized the effects it could have on Bristol Bay.
Environmental geochemist Kendra Zamzow was one of the skeptical people who testified.
"Scientists either did not review this EIS or they did a very bad job," Zamzow said. "The Army Corps should never have allowed such a slipshod document out for comment."
Sheila Newman, the Corps' regional regulatory deputy, said officials welcomed all further comments they heard Tuesday.
"This is not like the defense of a dissertation," Newman said. "This process is us saying, 'Here is everything we've done to date, and we actually welcome your input. And if that comes in the form of criticism, we absolutely welcome that as well.'"
Pebble Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole defended the science in the report.
"A lot of our science backs up our claims; it says this project can successfully co-exist with the fish and water resources of Bristol Bay," said Heatwole.
Some of the speakers like John Sturgeon, the moose hunter whose right to operate his hovercraft on waterways flowing through federal parks was upheld last month by the Supreme Court, agreed with Heatwole.
"Pebble has shown that those people that always say,' I support resource development if done right.' Well, in my opinion, Pebble has done it right," Sturgeon said.
But many others felt like Georgiana Heaverley, a commercial fisherman. Heaverley asked why the report did not include an economic impact study on salmon in Cook Inlet, which she said would also be affected by infrastructure built to support the mine.
"Did you overlook us in your haste to deliver this garbage of an EIS? Or did you simply deem my livelihood as a commercial fisherman unimportant when compared to the Pebble Mine?," she demanded.
Newman said every comment will be reviewed and considered before the Corps releases a final EIS on Pebble, probably in late January of 2020. The EIS will also have a preferred alternative for the mine, which could include the Corps taking no action at all.
About 90 days after the final EIS is released, Newman said, the Corps will issue a final decision on whether Pebble will get the federal permits required to proceed under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbor Act.
But at Tuesday's hearing some complained that the timeline seemed rushed. Others said there wasn't enough time for people to read the complicated document and respond.
While Tuesday marked the last public hearing at which the Corps will take written testimony through the end of May, Newman said the Corps could decide to extend the public comment period. A decision on whether to do so isn't likely until late April.
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