McNeil River is in trouble.
The construction of Pebble Mine and its associated infrastructure poses a direct threat to McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and the world’s largest seasonal congregation of brown bears
Currently, the Pebble Project has said there will be “no impact” to the area. The Army Corps of Engineers needs to be made aware of the impact this construction would have on the bears of McNeil River and the remote, contiguous habitat upon which these bears depend.
McNeil River is the only place like it on the planet and has been managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 50 years.
McNeil River originates from glaciers and alpine lakes located high in the mountains of the Aleutian Range. As the river makes it way toward the shores of lower Cook Inlet in southwestern Alaska, it provides sustenance to an array of wildlife, most visibly salmon and brown bears. The Alaska State Legislature designated the McNeil River area as a wildlife sanctuary in 1967 (and enlarged it to include the Refuge in 1993) to protect the world’s largest congregation of wild brown bears. As many as 144 individual bears have been observed at McNeil River through the summer. And in recent years, as many as 80 bears have been in view AT ONE TIME.
Preservation of these wildlife habitats and the unique brown bear concentration is the primary management goal of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game at the McNeil River Sanctuary. This means that all human activities must be compatible with this primary management goal.
The primary management goal of ADFG at the McNeil River Sanctuary is the fulfillment of the 1967 mandate:
The Sanctuary was established by the Alaska legislature in 1967. In 1991, the legislature expanded the sanctuary and established the McNeil River State Game Refuge. Both the sanctuary and refuge were established for these purposes:
- The permanent protection of brown bear and other fish and wildlife populations and their habitats for scientific, aesthetic, and educational purposes;
- To manage human use and activities in a way that is compatible with that purpose and to maintain and enhance unique bear viewing opportunities in the sanctuary;
Pebble Mine and its infrastructure, the deep water port at Amakdedori and the two-lane road from Amakdedori to Lake Iliamna, are in direct violation of the mandate legislating McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in 1967, and the Refuge in 1993.
And while there are many groups working to make known the disastrous effects of the mine itself, the most concerning part of the Pebble Proposal for McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge is the massive industrial port proposed for Amakdedori Beach just outside the boundary of the Refuge and a 38-mile Transport Corridor, or Road, to materials from the mine site to Cook Inlet.
According to the proposal (POA-2017-271, Section 18.2.2) the Amakdedori site will:
- “serve as the long-term logistics hub for the Project”
- “will include shore-based facilities to receive and store shipping containers and fuel, as well as power generation equipment, a natural gas compressor station for the natural gas pipeline, maintenance facilities, employee accommodations, and offices. A temporary airstrip…will be constructed adjacent to the port site for crew transportation during construction.”
- “…a 50-foot-deep dredged channel and 1,200-foot-daimeter turning basin at the berth. The dredged channel will follow a navigation route approximately 4.2 miles to reach naturally deep water.”
- “…up to 25 Handysize ships will be required annually for the transport of concentrate and up to 30 marine line-haul barge loads of supplies will be required annually.”
- “All dredge material will be disposed of on uplands behind the marine terminal. The estimated initial dredge volume is 10,000,000 cubic yards.”
The access road (POA-2017-271, Section 18.2.3) will:
- “have a 30-foot-wide top width…which will enable two-way traffic…”
- “…begins at the Amakdedori Port north of where Amakdedori Creek meets Cook Inlet and extends northwest to the South Ferry Terminal at Iliamna Lake west of Kokhanok”
The access permit program administered by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game manages visitor numbers and activities in the Sanctuary and was developed after many years of excessive and uncontrolled public use of the area that often put people and bears in danger. Such extensive development in close proximity to the Sanctuary is not compatible with the mandate that specifies the “permanent protection of brown bear and other fish and wildlife populations and their habitats” as legislated by the State in 1967.