Lake Illiama

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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.

In a briefing Friday, May 22, for reporters, corps official say they are still 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.

“Today’s statement by the USACE that they are closing in on their final decision regarding the LEDPA—essentially their approved plan for the project—is good news as it is an indication that the federal process is on track and nearing conclusion,” said Tom Collier, CEO for Pebble Partnership.

“We expect to see the issuance of the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the next few weeks followed by the Record of Decision (ROD) for the project,” Collier said.

Pebble is very 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.

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