The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make a decision in mid-December on its schedule for a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed large Pebble copper/gold/molybdenum mine.
The final environmental report is now to be published in early 2020. That could change.
The agency will decide whether the document should be delayed for revisions, corps officials said in a briefing. If the revisions are extensive the agency may do a Supplemental EIS, which would delay permitting for the project for some time.
Technical teams met with other federal agencies in November and more meetings are scheduled soon to sift through addition information on issues like water quality monitoring fisheries impacts.
Additional meetings are also planned between the corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in early January over the EPA’s questions on water modeling.
Meanwhile, Pebble Partnership, the developer, has not yet applied for its State of Alaska permits, which include an important dam safety permit that is required under federal law, but which will be issued by the state Department of Natural Resources.
“We hope to have our technical review wrapped up by the end of December,” said Sheila Newman, deputy chief of the corps’ regulatory division, in a Nov. 26 briefing with reporters.
The corps is now completing its analysis of public and agency comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Pebble, which will be followed by a revised final EIS.
About 116,000 comments on the project were received during the public comments period but the bulk of those were standardized comments. including many that were essentially duplicates. However, the corps was able to sort these into about 750 groups of concerns that were registered, Newman told reporters Nov. 26.
“Frankly, we were surprised we didn’t get more comments, but this project has been around for 15 years and the issues are well known. The (focused) comments we did get were very specific and in-depth, and those have helped us refine our analysis of the draft,” she said.
Once the final EIS issued, in early 2020 under the current schedule, a federal Record of Decision, or ROD, would normally follow a month after publication of the final EIS.
Publication of the ROD is usually done simultaneously with issuance of key federal permits including the important Section 404 dredge and fill permit, which authorizes construction in wetlands. However, lawsuits are expected from opponents to the Pebble project and those will likely delay the final federal permits.
As for work by the project developer, Pebble Partnership has been focused this year on field work to respond to requests for more information from the corps mostly in the areas of cultural and archeological resources near the project site and proposed road routes, said Mike Heatwole, spokesman for Pebble Partnership.
The company also did a small hydrological drill program to supply more information for water modeling and did repair work on drill holes done previously where water seepage was occurring, he said.
Also, geotechnical work was done near Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula along the route of a 12-inch, 190-mile gas pipeline that would provide fuel to a 250-megawatt power plant at the mine. The pipeline would be built across Cook Inlet from Anchor Point, so marine mammal surveys were also doen last summer to support the company’s application for permits to build the pipeline.
Heatwole said the pipeline is being sized to have capacity to carry gas for communities in the region if that is desired.
Pebble Partnership is a wholly owned subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd., a Vancouver, B.C. minerals exploration company that has led exploration and development of the Pebble project in recent years. The deposit was originally discovered in the 1980s by Cominco, a Canadian mining company that is now part of Teck Resources.
The proposed mine would be a large surface mine a few miles north of Iliamna, which is southwest of Anchorage. To date over $800 million has been spent on exploration, engineering and environmental studies at Pebble, Heatwole said.
Fisheries and community groups in the Bristol Bay region have registered strong opposition to Pebble because of potential pollution that could cause adverse effects on nearby salmon-bearing streams.