Testimony continues to pour in regarding the proposed Pebble mine that would be built near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, now that the US Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage has released its draft environmental impact statement.
At the Corps’ latest public hearing in Anchorage on April 16, dozens of people testified on the draft EIS. The deadline for public testimony is currently May 30, and the Corps has so far declined to extend that 90-day limit, although it is under increasing pressure to do so.
Opponents of the project, who fear potential adverse impact to the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon into Bristol Bay, testified that those potential catastrophic impacts would play out for centuries.
“We want to protect this last place on Earth as it is today” said Gayla Hoseth, director of natural resources for the Bristol Bay Native Association in Dillingham, who said the draft EIS needed at 270-day rather than a 90-day comment period. Hoseth and others told the Corps that people are already suffering mental stress from the decade long battle over the mine.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation board member Joe Chythlook told the Corps that they were moving too fast. “We need to slow it down and allow more people to study it and see what effects it will have,” he said. An overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay and Alaska residents oppose the mine “and I hope you have listened to them,” he said.
A number of those testifying spoke of adverse impact the mine would have on fish and wildlife, including bears of the famed McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, the largest know gathering of brown bears in the world.
Backers of the mine, including the Alaska Miners Association and the Resource Development Council, said the project would bring economic benefits to the region, including more jobs. Residents of some Bristol Bay communities were divided on the mine, some saying they can’t live off fishing alone, but commercial fisherman Peter Andrew Jr. of Dillingham told the corps that commercial fishing had put all four of his children through college.
Along with the scientists, engineers, commercial and subsistence fishermen testifying was orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman Allen Gross of anchorage, who said the big problem with the draft EIS is that it doesn’t represent the full scope of the mine. “It will be 10 times bigger,” said Gross. “Reject this plan and urge a plan that explores the full scope of the mine.”