Feds rush Pebble permit review
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Feds rush Pebble review

Why did Nunamta Aulukestai, a coalition of Alaska Native Village Corporations and tribes, condemn the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its review process for the proposed Pebble mine permit? Because the Army Corps has failed to provide enough time or public hearings to give all Alaskans a chance to speak their minds.

Photo by Giovanna Marcantonio from the documentary, “We Can’t Eat Gold.”

“This is the most controversial and opposed industrial mining proposal in the state, one that puts enduring and record-breaking salmon runs at stake, and the Army Corps has started its review process by shortchanging the knowledge and concerns of the people who live there,” said Myrtice Evalt, acting executive director for Nunamta, in a March 29 press release.

No time to waste

The State of Alaska and a key state legislator joined many Bristol Bay organizations and leaders in calling for an extension of the comment period. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources sent a letter to the Army Corps requesting a period of at least 90 to 120 days. It noted the travel challenges in Alaska and the enormity of the potential risks of the proposed Pebble mine—a massive copper and gold mine in the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.

The Army Corps has not yet responded, but there’s no time to waste. Hearings begin next week. Bristol Bay leaders and communities have already started helping Alaskans participate in the comment period and organize rallies during public hearings to make sure Alaskans are seen and heard.

April 6 update: Pressure from Alaska leaders and the public prompted the Army Corps to add an additional 60 days to the original 30-day public scoping period. The public can now give input until June 29. However, the dates, locations, and number of hearings has not changed. There is still a limitation on public testimony.

Fishing defines Bristol Bay, home to the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world. (Photo by Bob Waldrop).

To scope is to determine what matters

Participating in the scoping process is critical. It’s the first stage of the National Environmental Policy Act process, and it dictates what agencies will look at and analyze when preparing the environmental impact statement.

It’s essential that scoping include the views, expertise, and traditional knowledge of Alaskans, particularly those from the region, as well as those who rely on the Bristol Bay watershed for their livelihoods, cultures, and food.

Rally to be heard!

The Army Corps’ timeline further limits Alaska voices by limiting how and where Alaskans can make comments. In hub communities like Homer, Dillingham, and Anchorage, the Corps will prohibit public testimony and require Alaskans to go to a private room to give input. Moreover, the Corps won’t hold hearings in many communities in the Nushagak drainage where there is considerable risk of mining contamination.

Photo by Giovanna Marcandonio from the documentary, “We Can’t Eat Gold.”

Canada’s Northern Dynasty Minerals, operating in Alaska as Pebble Limited Partnership, will be allowed to do public presentations at every hearing, yet many Alaskans will not be able to speak out publicly at all.

Update April 10, 2018: Participants report that the Pebble presentation is a looped video placed somewhere in that room and played on a continuous loop during the hearing period. 

Those who can show up and speak should raise their voices for those who can’t. There will be gatherings associated with all these hearings. Rallies in in hub cities such as Homer and Anchorage will create visibility during meetings that disallow public testimony.

The hearings schedule at a glance

Alaskans can find out how to give input at hearings, or by mail or email here. Here’s the hearing schedule:

  • Naknek: Monday, April 9, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm at Naknek School (Get rally details)
  • Kokhanok: Tuesday, April 10, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm at Tribal Hall (Get rally details)
  • Homer: Wednesday, April 11, from 5 to 9 pm at Homer High School (Get rally details)
  • Newhalen: Thursday, April 12, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm at Newhalen School (Get rally details)
  • New Stuyahok: Friday, April 13, from 1 to 4:30 pm at the Community Building (Get rally details)
  • Nondalton: Monday, April 16, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm at the Tribal Center (Get rally details)
  • Dillingham: Tuesdays, April 17, from 5 to 9 pm at Dillingham Middle School (Get rally details)
  • Igiugig: Wednesday, April 18, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm at the Community Building (Get rally details)
  • Anchorage: Thursday, April 19, from 11 am to 9 pm at the Dena’ina Center (Get rally details)

Trustees for Alaska represents Nunamta Aulukestai, a coalition of Alaska Native Village Corporations and tribes in the Bristol Bay region dedicated to protecting the Bristol Bay watershed from unsustainable development.