Tell Homer residents they can’t talk and they’ll find another way to express their opinions. That was the case Wednesday, April 11, at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers community meeting at the Homer High School gym. The topic: Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska.
“In anticipation of large numbers of participants and to efficiently capture people’s comments, we decided not to have a ‘hot mic,’” said Shane M. McCoy, program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Instead of verbal comments, those attending the meeting at Homer High School could comment on Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposed open-pit copper-gold molybdenum porphyry mine in Southwest Alaska by:
•Submitting already-written comments to USACE representatives also in attendance;
• Completing and submitting the Pebble Project environmental impact statement comment forms that were provided,
•Providing comments on the more than half dozen laptop computers also provided; or
• Giving a verbal statement to either of two court reporters that were present.
Not wanting to be limited to those avenues of communication, a crowd used banners, signs and “wrong mine, wrong place” T-shirts to express an anti-Pebble message at a rally organized by Cook Inletkeeper held simultaneously in front of Homer High School. Youngsters posed with “you can’t eat gold” signs. Two banners made by local artist-activist Mavis Muller were on display. One read “Alaskans still fighting for the earth”; the other read “protect our wild salmon in Bristol Bay.” In the center of the protesters, Muller’s salmon sculpture presented an “I love these humans” sentiment.
Saying he didn’t oppose the proposed mine, only its location at the headwaters of Bristol Bay and in an area with volcanoes and frequent earthquakes, Tim Steinberg of Homer wore a sweatshirt with a picture of a large dump truck running over a salmon and the message “over our dead salmon — stop the Pebble mine.”
The meeting was one of several being held in Southwest and Southcentral Alaska by the Corps during a 90-day “scoping period,” the intent of which is “to identify areas of concern, alternatives, potential benefits, and things to be analyzed in the EIS (environmental impact statement) level of analysis,” said McCoy.
Originally the Corps set a 30-day comment deadline; however, last week 60 days were added “after receiving requests,” McCoy said. The scoping period officially began April 1 and ends June 29. Once comments have been received, the Corps will “develop a scoping report, do a data-gap analysis, and develop a more robust schedule,” said McCoy.
Construction of the mine will take four years and employ 2,000; operation of the mine will extend 20 years with 850 employed, according to video and posters at the meeting. Personnel will be flown to Iliamna Airport and driven to the mine. An 83-mile transportation corridor will run from the site, cross an 18-mile expanse of Iliamna Lake via year-round ferry, to a deepwater dock to be constructed on the western shore of Cook Inlet at Amakdedori. Pebble Limited Partnership anticipated as many as 25 annual shipments of concentrate and as many as 30 annual marine barge loads at the dock.
Power for the project will come from a plant capable of meeting an anticipated load of 230 megawatts and operated by natural gas delivered through a pipeline running 94 miles beneath Cook Inlet from a location near Anchor Point. Diesel generators will provide emergency backup power.
Annual production is anticipated to be 600,000 tons of copper-gold concentrate and 15,000 tons of molybdenum concentrate. PLP’s posters indicated the tailing storage facility design meets Alaska Dam Safety Program standards, and the water management plan is designed to minimize the amount of water diverted from natural flows and to treat and condition of all water to meet water quality standards before discharge.
A plan to close the plant and reclaim the area after operations are complete indicates that in five years most of the buildings would be removed, the terrain resculpted and native plants sown; in 20 years there will be vegetation in the reclaimed areas and the pit will continue to fill with water; in 30 years Pit Lake will have formed and water will be pumped from the pit for treatment and discharge.
More than once on Wednesday, individuals attempted to verbally express opinions about the mine. Each time McCoy reiterated that he would answer questions about the project, but was not taking verbal comments.
That didn’t stop discussions and comments shared among those attending the meeting, however. Patty Delate of Kodiak voiced concern about the impact the mine could have on salmon runs, since Bristol Bay is the home of most of Alaska’s wild sockeye salmon.
“We need to respect fish and wildlife. We need to save them for future generations,” said Delate.
The project began with data collected by Cominco American Incorporated in the 1980s and 1990s, but appeared sidelined in 2014 after the Environmental Protection Agency determined the project posed a serious threat to fish habitat. After a meeting between Tom Collier, the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in late 2017, the project regained traction.
“Why is this being brought up again?” Delate said.
“It’s appalling to see this again,” said Homer resident Milli Martin, agreeing with Delate.
Submitting her comments in opposition to the proposed mine via the provided laptop computers, Dorothy Larson of Dillingham and a board member of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, said it was “really refreshing” to see the size of the crowd attending the Wednesday meeting.
Homer resident Wilma Williams, who fished in Bristol Bay for 21 years, compared the mine project to playing Russian roulette.
“Bristol Bay has one of the biggest red salmon runs in the world. It feeds many, many thousands of people. And I think it’s more important than whatever they’re getting out of the mine. It’s too big of an operation to take a chance,” Williams said.
Like Williams, Peter Andrew and Diedre Hill have also fished in Bristol Bay. Andrew lives in Dillingham and New Stuyahok, and Hill is formerly of Naknek but now living in Washington state. They are board members of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, but spoke as individuals at the meeting.
Andrew, who has been hearing about the mine since 1988, said it is “very dangerous to a culturally and ecologically sensitive area that has been sustaining lives for thousands of years. … The science says it can’t be done correctly.”
“In general, it (Pebble mine) is a proposition of unknowns versus a multitude of knowns that have sustained a culture and a population in that part of the world,” said Hill.
When asked if they were finding opposition to the mine in other areas of the country, Peter pointed to the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting and said, “Nationally, when EPA did their comment period, there were 1.3 million comments speaking against this project.”
“The question I keep getting is why are we doing this again. … It’s time for anyone affected to make their voices heard,” said Hill.
With the clock ticking toward the June 29 deadline, this is indeed the time to comment on the proposed mining project.
“I really want to write a well-informed comment,” said Jinky Handy of Homer. “So that’s why I’m here, seeing more information.”
The video shown at the meeting will be available soon on the Corps website, pebbleprojecteis.com, said McCoy. He also encouraged frequent visits to the website for project-related updates.
A general Pebble comment writing workshop will be held at the Kachemak Conservation Center, Cook Inletkeeper office at 5:30 p.m. April 26, 5:30 p.m. Food and refreshments will be provided. RSVP to Satchel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written comments may be submitted to:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District
Program Manager, Regulatory Division
ATTN: DA Permit Application 2017-271, Pebble Limited Partnership
P.O. Box 6898
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska 99506-0898
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com.