The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has selected an 86-mile access road and slurry pipeline for moving ore concentrates for the big Pebble copper/gold/molybdenum project near Lake Iliamna southwest of Anchorage.
In announcing the road and pipeline as its “least environmentally damaging” access alternative for Pebble, the corps cited problems with a plan advanced by Pebble Partnership, the mine developer, for a shorter road on a more southern route as well as a shuttle-ferry that would operate across Lake Iliamna.
Pebble Partnership says it now supports the corps’ proposal as its own preferred alternative.
However, Bristol Bay Native Corp. said the northern road route crosses its lands and lands owned by village corporations, and that they will not allow access to their lands for Pebble Partnership.
Pebble is controversial in coastal fishing communities in southwest Alaska, mainly in the Bristol Bay area, who worry about adverse effects of mining operations on streams in the area of the mine that feed into rivers supporting major salmon fisheries.
In the Friday briefing Friday corps official said they are on track for completion of a Final Environmental Impact Statement in June or July for the mine as well as a Record of Decision, or ROD, later in the fall.
When the ROD is issued it would also trigger major federal permits for Pebble, mainly a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to authorize construction in wetlands.
Dave Hobbe, the lead corps official in charge of the agency’s review of Pebble, also said the selection of the northern road route as least environmentally damaging would allow the corps to develop a wetlands mitigation plan for Pebble.
The change in the access route would also require a change in the proposed port for the project on Lower Cook Inlet. Previously, under the southern road route and shuttle ferry proposal a port at Amakdedori, on the Inlet’s west side, was being considered.
With a northern road now the preferred alternative, the port location has now been switched to Diamond Point, which is further north on Cook Inlet.
There was immediate pushback, however, from local groups to the corps’ decision announced Friday.
“After learning about the likely change from a nearly month-old memo obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, BBNC (Bristol Bay Native Corp.) sent a letter to the corps reiterating that PLP does not and will not have permission to access its lands. BBNC also asked the Corps to remove from consideration any plan that would rely on BBNC surface and subsurface estates,” BBNC’s vice president of lands, Dan Cheyette, said in a statement released Friday.
“There are numerous problems with the northern transportation route. It has not been vetted and scrutinized by both the public and cooperating agencies on the same level as other transportation routes,” he said.
The new route would transverse BBNC surface and subsurface lands, including at its eastern terminus that sits on property jointly owned by subsidiaries of BBNC and Igiugig Village Council. Both entities expressed to the corps and PLP that these lands are not and will not be available to accommodate Pebble mine.
Pebble Partnership, however, said the northern route has been vetted. “For most of the project’s history this was the transportation corridor preferred by the project team. We shifted to the ferry route across Iliamna Lake because we thought its smaller wetlands footprint would be viewed positively by the regulators,” said Tom Collier, CEO for Pebble Partnership.
“The choice between the two transportation alternatives for Pebble has always been a close call. Now that the USACE (Army Corps), working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other cooperating agencies, has indicated that the northern corridor is the preferred approach we look forward to seeing the final EIS for the project,” Collier said.
The northern road route includes a pipeline to move ore concentrates, and this is environmentally superior than trucking the concentrates from the mine site to the coast, which the southern alternative and shuttle ferry would have involved.