People from the Homer community and beyond flocked to Homer High School last Thursday to testify on the proposed Pebble Mine project, as well as the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) put forward by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is tasked with evaluating a permit application from Pebble Limited Partnership.
Dozens of people filed into the stands in the Alice Witte Gymnasium to give their comments at the public hearing hosted by the corps. Others sat down at tables near the back of the room to submit their comments electronically.
The Army Corps of Engineers has authority over:
• The discharge of fill material for construction of the road system and the proposed port
• Working in navigable waters
It does not have authority over the proposed mine plan for operations with respect to how the minerals will be extracted, how they’ll be transported, or how the mine will deal with tailings dams. All of those operations would have to be approved through permits by different state agencies.
While much of the testimony presented at the hearing was either vague or not related to the corps’ EIS, some who gave public comments did address the document, saying it was lacking and incomplete. Commenters said the document downplays the consequences of mine activity to the ecology of the area, and several said they were disappointed that it did not take a deeper look at the social and economic impacts to the Bristol Bay area.
Many who testified urged the corps to scrap the Draft EIS and start it over, saying that would be the only way for them to get it right.
Part way through the meeting, community members went outside the school to join a rally organized by Cook Inletkeeper, which had its own agenda and speakers. At the end of the rally, protesters marched into the building with the intention of marching into the hearing in the gymnasium whilst chanting and playing musical instruments. They were met at the door to the gym, where a member of the public who was also there to testify against the mine told them the demonstration was making it difficult to hear the testimony being given inside.
Over and over again, members of the public told the corps to reach the same conclusion: “No action.” This refers to the option the corps has, after the final EIS, to deny the Pebble Mine permit application. The other option would be to approve the application, with or without special conditions attached to it.
Others at the meeting urged the corps to extend the public comment period for the draft document, saying the deadline of May 30 is not enough time. During an interview before the public hearing, Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the corps’ Regulatory Division, said a decision of whether or not to extend the deadline for a comment period is not typically made before two thirds of the way through the current comment period.
That means the corps hasn’t reached that point yet. Public comment periods are required to be at least 45 days. The current comment period has been extended to 90 days.
“The public can expect a decision on that toward the end of April, more like at day 60 of 90-day comment period,” Newman said. “I can tell you that we’ve had requests for extension, (and) we’ve had requests to not extend from a variety of audiences.”
Newman said a team of about five people from the corps, as well as a third-party contractor with a group of about 20-30 people, are responsible for looking at and analyzing public comments on the EIS.
“We gather all the comments first, and we review all of them, and put them in categories for resource concerns,” she said. “Then we develop what’s called statements of concerns, based on those comments, and we respond to those statements of concern in the final EIS.”
She emphasized that pubic hearings are not the only way for people to submit comments on the document. People can send public comments by emailing them to email@example.com or mailing them to:
US Army Corps of Engineers
645 G St.
Anchorage, AK 99501
To download and read the Draft EIS, visit www.pebbleprojecteis.com.