USACE Gives Pebble 90 Days to Develop a Plan to Mitigate ‘Unavoidable Adverse Impacts to Aquatic Resources’
In a letter dated August 20, the US Army Corps of Engineers–Alaska District notified the Pebble Limited partnership that, as part of it’s Record of Decision process, “the District made Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) factual determinations that discharges at the [Pebble] mine site would cause unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources, and, preliminarily, that those adverse impacts would result in significant degradation to those aquatic resources.”
Direct and indirect impacts of mine operation-related discharges into aquatic resources in the Koktuli River Watershed would affect a total of 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132.5 acres of open waters, and 129.5 miles of streams. In addition, direct and indirect impacts related to the project’s transportation corridor total 460 acres of wetlands, 231.7 acres of open waters, and 55.5 miles of streams.
To address the issue, Pebble must develop a “compensatory mitigation plan”; compensatory mitigation means restoring (re-establishment or rehabilitation), establishment, enhancement, and/or preservation of wetlands, streams, and other aquatic resources. According to the letter, “There are three approved mechanisms for providing compensatory mitigation, which include mitigation banks, in-lieu fee programs, and permittee-responsible mitigation with preference, in that order. [The] mitigation plan may include a combination of means and mechanisms but must comply with all required components of the [Code of Federal Regulations at 33 CFR Part 40 Part 230 Compensatory Mitigation for Losses of Aquatic Resources; Final Rule] and be found sufficient to offset the unavoidable adverse impacts to the aquatic resources identified above.”
Pebble Limited Partnership was given 90 days from the date of the letter to produce an appropriate compensatory mitigation plan.
Several entities have commented on USACE’s opinion that, as planned, the Pebble Mine cannot be permitted.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation has opposed development of the mine since 2009, and surveys of the company’s shareholders indicate that more than 75 percent of shareholders oppose Pebble and more than 85 percent are concerned about the risks it poses.
Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, said, “Today’s action indicates the Army Corps of Engineers, President Trump, and Alaska’s Senators have listened to science, local voices, and common sense. We are grateful they are reaching the same conclusion as the many voices across the ideological spectrum that have recently spoken up about the project: that Pebble is the wrong mine for Bristol Bay.
“The real winners of today’s decision are the people of our region. The future of Bristol Bay is more secure because local stakeholders have been unwavering in their efforts to disclose the true impacts this project would cause to the region’s fisheries, fishing-based economy and subsistence way of life… We appreciate the Corps’ announcement today about Pebble and will continue our work to find other, more responsible economic opportunities for the region and our shareholders.”
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All three members of Alaska’s Congressional Delegation have also weighed in on the announcement.
Congressman Don Young stated, “The debate over Pebble Mine is not new, and through it all, I have been consistent in my position that we needed to allow the scientific process to determine what effect, if any, this mine would have on Bristol Bay. And that meant letting the science, not politicians, environmental activists, or bureaucrats, make a determination about the future of the proposed Pebble project. Today’s announcement by the Army Corps indicates a significant amount of compensatory mitigation is needed to offset the potential environmental impacts of the proposed mine at this present time. While not an outright veto of the project, this is a steep hill for the company to climb.
“Very frankly, I am concerned we are talking about this at all because this is State land. I support our 10th Amendment, and I am a staunch defender of our right to manage our own lands. From day one, this project has been subject to the political whims, decisions, and opinions of federal agencies and bureaucrats who disagree with how we Alaskans choose to live and work. Alaskans know that developing our resources and protecting our environment can go hand-in-hand, which is why I have always defended our right to extract oil and minerals responsibly. If we allow this to continue, then the federal government has a moral and economic obligation to compensate our state for stifling Alaska’s job growth potential.”
US Senator Lisa Murkowski said, “I strongly support Alaska’s mining industry and the jobs, revenues, and raw materials it provides. Mining’s role in our state economy will only grow in the years ahead, but each project will have to demonstrate that it can be built and operated in accordance with strict regulations and without significant adverse impact on the environment.
“In this instance, after years of extensive process and scientific study, federal officials have determined the Pebble project, as proposed, does not meet the high bar for large-scale development in Bristol Bay.
“I understand, respect, and support this decision. I agree that a permit should not be issued. And I thank the administration for its commitment to the protection of this world-class watershed and salmon fishery.”
And US Senator Dan Sullivan responded, “I have consistently advocated that the permitting process for the Pebble project go forward in an orderly, science-based manner… Throughout this process, I have advocated for the Army Corps and other federal regulatory agencies to conduct a rigorous, fair, science-based review—free of politics—that does not trade one resource for another. I have worked hard to ensure that the voices of all Alaskans—both for and against the Pebble Mine—would be heard, considered, and respected at the highest levels of the federal government. This has happened.
“Finally, I have been clear that given the important aquatic system and world-class fishery resources at stake, Pebble, like all resource development projects in Alaska, has to pass a high bar—a bar that the Trump administration has determined Pebble has not met. I support this conclusion—based on the best available science and a rigorous, fair process—that a federal permit cannot be issued.”
However, Pebbled released a statement asserting that a letter like this was “anticipated” by Pebble Limited Partnership “as part of the ongoing discussions about the issue.” Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier said, “The letter we received today is a normal letter in the permitting process and we are well into an effort to present a mitigation plan to the USACE that complies with the requirements of their letter. A clear reading of the letter shows it is entirely unrelated to recent tweets about Pebble and one-sided news shows. The White House had nothing to do with the letter nor is it the show-stopper described by several in the news media over the weekend.
“The letter does not ask for a delay or pause in the permitting process. In fact, it clearly states that the USACE is continuing its work toward a Record of Decision for the project. This is the next step in what has been a comprehensive, exhaustive two-and-a-half-year review of the project. Nothing in the letter is a surprise to us or them.
“The letter does not ask for “more” or “additional” mitigation. This is the first time the USACE has put its formal assessment regarding mitigation for the Pebble Project on the record. Thus, it is a “first” request, not a new or additional one and it is in line with what we anticipated.
“The USACE has identified the wetlands and stream impacts at the project mine site to include about 3000 acres of wetlands and about 100 miles of streams. The USACE has stated that the mitigation must be “in kind” and “in watershed.” In order to provide such mitigation Pebble intends to include in its CMP a plan to preserve enough land so that multiples of the number of impacted wetlands acres are preserved. Additional mitigation will also be provided for the transportation corridor.
“We have been working on the details of a plan with the USACE and the State of Alaska since earlier in the summer. We have had crews in the field near the site since the end of July conducting additional wetlands surveys to provide us with additional information to include in our plan…
“We will share more details of our initial plan as they become more defined.”
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Spreading the Word
When Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) first aired TV commercials featuring the tagline, “A Place That’s Always Been,” the reaction was surprising. Not only because they received numerous accolades and marketing awards for the campaign but because, at the time, it was rare for Alaska Native corporations to market themselves through the media.