Groups opposed to development at the Pebble copper and gold prospect expressed outrage Wednesday over what they called the federal government's apparent effort to rush an environmental review of the giant project.
Starting April 1, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take 30 days of public comment on the newly filed development plan for Pebble that straddles headwaters of the massive Bristol Bay salmon fishery.
Similar comment periods for other big projects in Alaska have lasted more than twice as long, opponents said Wednesday.
Alannah Hurley, executive director at United Tribes of Bristol Bay, called the window for public engagement "absurd."
"Such a short time frame will ultimately exclude not only the people of Bristol Bay, but all Alaskans," she said in a statement. "We will not have a meaningful opportunity to engage and provide critical input on how we will be impacted by the Pebble mine."
Mike Heatwole, a spokesman with applicant Pebble Limited Partnership, said this comment period, a first step known as scoping, is "solid, transparent and workable."
"We think it is important for stakeholders to differentiate between scoping — which is about identifying the types of issues the Corps should include in the 'scope' of the environmental impact statement — and the comment period that will take place for the draft (impact statement), where we expect to hear a range of opinions about the project," he said.
Pebble, owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, British Columbia, applied in December for a permit from the Corps, which is leading the federal government's environmental review of the project.
The company's application says 1.1 billion tons of mineralized rock and 100 million tons of waste rock will be mined over the project's life. Pebble has pegged the life of this proposal at 20 years.
[Pebble's application for a Southwest Alaska gold mine is now public]
The open-pit mine will expand over time, eventually growing to about a mile long by a mile wide, with a depth of about 1,500 feet, the Corps says in a summary of the project. A tailings storage facility, for unwanted material from the mining and extraction process, could hold about 1.1 billion tons.
The Corps is planning to host meetings in Alaska communities starting April 9 in King Salmon, said John Budnik, a spokesman with the agency.
Additional meetings are planned for Kokhanok on April 10, Homer on April 11, Iliamna on April 12, Nondalton on April 16, Dillingham on April 17 and Anchorage on April 19.
The Corps said it won't have a public speaking format in Homer, Anchorage and Dillingham, to avoid "long wait times." Written comments will be taken at those meetings.