Pebble Mine Opponents to Army Corps: Wrong Mine, Wrong Place

No Pebble Rally in Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage rally
Anchorage Rally
Credit: Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Rally Protests Both the Proposed Pebble Mine and the Army Corps’ Permitting Process


More than 500 people gathered to oppose the Pebble Mine yesterday in Anchorage, Alaska. Hundreds rallied outside the Dena’ina convention center where inside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held the last of several public scoping hearings.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand,” Rick Halford—former Republican President of the Alaska Senate—asked the crowd. “Twelve, fourteen years of saying “no”: No to foreign companies, no to the developers, and no to the Corps of Engineers.”


Curyung Tribal Chief Thomas Tilden said “we are not fighting against this mine for us. We are thinking about the future of Alaska.” And the future of Alaska is salmon and clean water.


"Salmon and the water are our foundation and connection to all life," said speaker Danielle Stickman, whose family subsistence fishes in village of Nondalton. “This way of life is ceremony. Attuned to the life of our Earth and all it offers…today we need to stand strong as speak up for the salmon, for clean water, and for the last subsistence cultures in this country….we only have one Earth, one life.”


The speakers rallied a crowd of over 200 outside, because inside the Army Corps of Engineers did not allow the public to speak publicly. Instead of an “open microphone” format where the public can speak, listen, and be heard, the Army Corps instead directed the public to provide private testimony to a court reporter or type written comments in a computer. 


Unlike all the other hearings in Bristol Bay villages, the Army Corps used a similar “closed microphone” format in Dillingham. People were outraged.


Gayla Hoseth, Curyung Second Chief said in a statement earlier this week: “This format is inconsistent with how we, as Alaska Native people, communicate. Traditionally, we gather, we listen to the words of our elders, and we learn from the words of others. This inspires and motivates our tribal members to stand up and be heard. The hearing format proposed by the [Army Corps] will result in fewer people speaking, which in turn means the scoping process will not be as well informed.”


Kim Willians, Curyung Member Chief, also stated: “This is an outrage. The Army Coprs provided all of the tribal communities in Bristol Bay with an open, transparent process where tribal elders and members were welcomed. But, in Dillingham we are being treated like second class citizens. The only solution to this is an open meeting, where all voices can be heard.”


Voices were not heard in Anchorage, either, except at the people’s rally.


I attended the hearing and gave the following testimony to a court reporter.


Taryn Kiekow Heimer Testimony, Army Corps of Engineers’ Scoping Hearing in Anchorage, Alaska

Good afternoon. My name is Taryn Kiekow Heimer.  I am the Deputy Director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and am here in Anchorage today on behalf of our more than 3 million members and activists, many of whom live in Alaska.

I am also here today to support the communities and residents of Bristol Bay, who overwhelmingly oppose the proposed Pebble Mine. Bristol Bay is a resource of national and global significance.

Last time I publicly testified in Alaska about the Pebble Mine, I thanked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for listening first-hand the concerns of the people whose communities and livelihoods are threatened by the Pebble Mine and for responding to the request of tribes and others to protect the Bristol Bay watershed.

Unfortunately, I am not able to testify publicly before the Army Corps of Engineers because it has purposefully designed a process that precludes meaningful public participation. While the Army Corps is offering a “hot microphone” at six of its public hearings, it excluded public testimony in Dillingham, Homer and Anchorage. Further, it is not holding public hearings at potentially impacted communities downstream of the mine or fishery hubs in the Pacific Northwest.

As you know, the scoping process is the best time to identify issues and provide recommendations to agencies on what should be analyzed in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However, a process developed for activities with controversial impacts -- like those at issue here--that does not provide opportunity for certain members of the public to testify before or speak to a broader audience, or to hear answers to questions raised by others, and that does not engage potentially impacted communities downstream of the mine, ultimately is not designed to help citizens and organizations effectively participate.

Under these circumstances, I do not believe these scoping meetings have been designed to help our members effectively participate in this phase of the NEPA process.

Had the Army Corps offered an open mic today, you would have heard about the importance of salmon and clean water, which is both the lifeblood and economic linchpin of Bristol Bay. The overwhelming majority of the people in Bristol Bay do not want the Pebble Mine, and are asking the Army Corps to say “no” to it.

NRDC will be submitting detailed scoping comments to the Army Corps, so I will just make a handful of brief points here today:

First, the Army Corps should not permit the Pebble Mine. Doing so would threaten a $1.5 billion-annual commercial salmon fishery that supports 14,000 jobs and a subsistence culture that has thrived for millennia.

Second, the EIS analysis should consider a range of alternatives, including the no action alternative, alternative power sources, alternative transportation corridors, and alternative port sites.

Third, the Army Corps must incorporate extensive up to date scientific information. In its permit application, Pebble proposed several entirely new components to the project, including a 188-mile long natural gas pipeline, a large port and 4.5-mile dredged channel in Cook Inlet waters, use of an ice-breaking barge to make a daily round-trip crossing of Lake Iliamna, a 230-megawatt power plant, and the construction of more than 80 miles of private roads that will have more than 200 stream crossings and at least eight bridges. Yet Pebble did not submit any baseline studies from which the agency can begin evaluating the impacts of the new components. The only baseline studies publicly available are more than a decade old, with data collected from 2004 to 2008.  And those baseline studies focus solely on the mine site, failing entirely to include newly proposed project components such as the transportation corridor, Iliamna Lake ferry, and the proposed port site.  These previously unanticipated components will require significant additional study before the Army Corps can move forward with an EIS.

Fourth, the EIS should analyze the full range of possible impacts from mining, the tailings dams, the transportation corridor, the pipeline, and the port site—including failures and spills. The EIS should conduct this analysis based on the substantial body of information already available about mining and pipeline disasters.

Finally, the EIS must consider a range of mitigation options, although no amount of modern engineering or mitigation could sufficiently protect Bristol Bay from the inherent risk of large-scale mining. Building a mine of this size, in this location will be destructive. The only certainty is that eventually mitigation will fail, contamination will occur, and salmon will be destroyed.

On behalf of NRDC and its members, I look forward to more substantive opportunities to participate in a manner that fulfills the purposes of NEPA.

Thank for your consideration of these and future comments.