BRISTOL BAY

Army Corps rejects Pebble mine permit

The Army Corps of Engineers has denied a permit for the Pebble copper and gold mine proposed in southwest Alaska, the agency said today.

"USACE determined that the applicant's plan for the discharge of fill material does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest," Army Corps Alaska District Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said in a statement.

The Army Corps said it has completed the record of decision denying the permit and is preparing to publish it.

The controversial mine was proposed upstream from the world's premier sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.

The mine, proposed by the Pebble Limited Partnership, appeared to be sailing toward approval this summer when the Army Corps issued an environmental review that found the project would not have a measurable effect on the salmon fishery.

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But internal turmoil at the company, political pressure from both sides of the aisle and questions over its wetlands mitigation plan left its future in doubt.

Today's rejection spells the end of the project, notwithstanding any legal challenges.

"We are obviously dismayed by today's news," said Pebble interim CEO John Shively in a statement. "One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people living in the area."

Shively added that Pebble will "sort out next steps for the project including an appeal of the decision."

The denial comes just one week after Pebble's backers submitted their most recent plan to offset the more than 3,000 acres of wetlands the mine would destroy (Greenwire, Nov. 17).

Though details of the plan have been kept from the public, state records indicate Alaska officials were working with Pebble to help permanently preserve wetlands within Bristol Bay in an attempt to offset the mine's impacts.

The Army Corps in August rejected Pebble's initial compensatory mitigation plan to offset wetlands destruction by upgrading tribal sewage systems.

That rejection came shortly after the president's son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted his opposition to the mine and asked EPA to veto the project under the Clean Water Act.

Tim Bristol, executive director of fishery advocacy group SalmonState, applauded the decision.

"The critical next step is to reestablish the Clean Water Act protections for America's greatest salmon fishery — protections that should have never been done away with in the first place. This can and should be an early priority for the Biden Administration," he said in a statement.

EPA should "use Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to permanently protect this national treasure from large scale mining for all time," said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Amen to certainty for this cherished area, the tribes and community of Bristol Bay, and its wildlife and waters. This region has been whipsawed with uncertainty about its fate for a decade, and this move recognizes there was never any way to mitigate the harm Pebble mine would do," Reynolds said.

Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.

Twitter: @jamesmarshall_aEmail: jmarshall@eenews.net

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