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Review panels on Pebble gold and copper mine set to begin Tuesday

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times

A series of four science panels to review environmental and socioeconomic baseline studies prepared by the Pebble Limited Partnership, set for Tuesday through Oct. 11 in Anchorage, is the latest effort of the mine's backers to explain their massive study.

The panel discussions, for which the public may preregister to attend or what via webcast, will cover geology and geochemistry, Oct 2-3; hydrology and water quality, Oct. 3-4; fish, wildlife and habitat, Oct. 9-10, and socioeconomic and cultural studies, Oct.10-11. Each includes a half-day and full day session in the consortium library on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.

For the fisheries, wildlife and habitat panel, the participants will be Hal Geiger of St. Hubert Research Group in Juneau; Stanley (Jeep) River, Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Auke Bay Laboratory; Daniel Schindler and Charles (Si) Simenstad of the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; and Mike Stone, former chief of fisheries for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Those registering online are invited to submit questions for the panelists, who are being assembled by the Keystone Center, a Colorado-based nonprofit that describes itself as an organization with a vision of sharing in the ownership of society's challenges and working together to find solutions.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which is footing the bill for these panel discussions, meanwhile has continued to criticize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's draft watershed assessment, which found that large-scale mining near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed could adversely affect the habitat critical to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.

In one of its latest news releases, the Pebble Partnership cites a technical review it financed by Knight Piesold Consulting, which is highly critical of the EPA's findings.

Knight Piesold, an international consulting firm, provides worldwide engineering and environmental services for the mining, power, water, transportation and construction sectors. Founded in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1921, the firm has facilities on every continent, including North American offices in Chicago, Denver, Tucson and Elko, NV.

According to Knight Piesold, the EPA assessment presents a mine scenario and assumptions that fail to meet the standards for mine development and environmental assessment in the state of Alaska and the United States. But, says Knight Piesold, that assessment report is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that considers that a faulty mine design, inadequate mine development and inappropriate mine operations would be permitted to occur within the state of Alaska. In fact, according to the Pebble Partnership, to base a veto of the project on the EPA's report "would be a triumph of politics over science."

Not so, says Carol Ann Woody, a fisheries scientist with extensive background in fisheries studies in the Bristol Bay watershed.

"My review of the Pebble Limited Partnership is they only released selected information and what they have released is hard to review because it is not in an acceptable format," Woody said.

Working with a small group of scientists from Alaska, non-governmental organizations and tribes, Woody's crew have identified 28 miles of salmon-producing habitat in the area where the mine is proposed. Woody nominated those miles for inclusion in Alaska's Anadromous Waters Catalogue, and they were accepted. As a result, those waters cannot be disturbed without prior notice and permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

That, said Woody, is unacceptable. The acceptable procedure is to do a study, write it up, analyze the data and then release it to the world, she said. "Most scientists get their work published, and that gets it peer reviewed," Woody said.

Pebble's environmental baseline document, some 30,000 pages of information, is essentially a data dump, and we're not sure what they have, she said.

"Keystone is trying to compare what they are doing to what the EPA did, and it is like comparing apples and oranges.

"EPA did the watershed assessment in response to stakeholder requests. They were requested to step in and do this analysis, and nobody is controlling that science. They reviewed all the information and looked at potential mine impact. It shows there will be huge impacts if this mine goes in.

"Keystone is not looking at whether there will be impact. They are just looking to see if the science is adequate, and it is really distracting. The real question is should a mine be built in this place or not," she said.

To register for one or more of the Keystone panel discussions, call 1-866-276-3074 or go online to www.keystone.org/ISPRegistration

This story first appeared in The Cordova Times. You can reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com