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Environment

Following pressure from Murkowski and others, Pebble comment period extended

The federal government will give the public more time to comment on a draft environmental review of the Pebble project in the wake of pressure from Sen. Lisa Murkowski and state officials.

Just days after a letter from Murkowski urged a longer period, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday agreed to allow 90 days of comment, tripling the 30 days previously planned.

Murkowski said she has "consistently remained neutral" on the project, but added that people need ample commenting time, according to the letter to Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the Corps in Alaska, dated April 3.

"Many Alaskans have shared concerns with me that a 30-day scoping period may be insufficient for a project of this magnitude and potential impact," Murkowski said in her letter.

Some groups, including some from the Southwest Alaska region where the mine would be built, had panned the comment period as too short for the controversial copper and gold prospect.

Pebble Limited Partnership has proposed building the mine at a site straddling headwaters that support Bristol Bay's giant salmon fishery. Pebble, owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals in Canada, applied in December for a permit from the Corps.

The comment period began April 1 and will now extend to June 29.

Other letters to the Corps seeking a longer comment period were sent in March by Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat from the region's hub community in Dillingham, and Andy Mack, Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner.

The letters were "taken into consideration" before the extension was made, said John Budnik, a Corps spokesman in Alaska.

The Corps plans several community meetings, beginning in the Bristol Bay village of Naknek on April 9, and ending in Anchorage on April 19.

The Corps had previously singled out the larger communities of Anchorage, Dillingham and Homer as locations where there would be no public speaking format, in order to prevent "long wait times."

Murkowski's letter urged the Corps to allow public testimony at those meetings.

In fact, a public speaking format is not planned for any of the meetings, including in the smaller Bristol Bay communities, Budnik said Friday.

However, meeting-goers can provide oral comments to a "court reporter," or comment on provided computers and paper. Comments can also be made by mail or at the Corps website, pebbleprojecteis.com.

The agency will also provide a Yup'ik interpreter to assist speakers of the traditional language in the region, Budnik said.

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