JUNEAU, Alaska — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it could take more than a year to weigh an appeal by a developer seeking to build a copper and gold mine in a region that supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.
The corps’ Pacific Ocean Division in Hawaii is handling the appeal by the Pebble Limited Partnership, which was denied approval of a key permit for the project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region by the corps’ Alaska District.
A November decision signed by the district commander determined the proposed Pebble mine was “contrary to the public interest.”
The Pebble partnership in January filed an appeal request.
But the corps’ Pacific Ocean Division indicated Thursday that the administrative record in the case had just been received from the Alaska District. The record contains documents surrounding the permit decision that will be considered in deciding on the appeal, the statement from the Pacific division said.
The statement said the “volume and complexity of the information to consider for this particular appeal far surpasses that of an average appeal.” The national average over the past decade for completing a regulatory review is about a year, but in this case, the process is expected to take longer, the statement said.
“The Pacific Ocean Division remains committed to maintaining an administrative appeal process that is independent, objective, fair and efficient,” according to the statement.
Luciano Vera, a spokesperson for the corps’ Pacific Ocean Division, said the appeal in this case was made to a level above the Alaska District, which is why the division is handling the matter.
If the appeal is deemed to have merit, the matter would be sent back to the Alaska District for reconsideration, which could result in the same decision or a different decision on the permit application, Vera said by email. If the appeal is deemed to be without merit, the original permit decision would stand, the email says.
Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesperson, said the schedule is up to the corps, “and we will work with them as they advance the appeal.”
The proposed mine has been the subject of heated debate for years.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed, but never finalized, restrictions on development in the Bristol Bay region. The agency in 2019, during the Trump administration, withdrew the proposal, calling it outdated and preemptively issued.
Leaders of the Pebble partnership had seen as favorable to the project an environmental review from the corps that was released several months before the November rejection.
The corps, in that review, stated that under normal operations, the alternatives it looked at “would not be expected to have a measurable effect on fish numbers and result in long-term changes to the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”
John Shively, CEO of the Pebble partnership, said the conclusions reached in the November decision were not supported by the environmental review.
Joe Biden, as a candidate for president last year, said if elected, he would work to stop the project. Former President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was among those who also spoke in opposition last year to the project.
Pebble opponents have said they want permanent measures implemented that would make the Bristol Bay region off limits to large-scale mining.