EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment Draws Hundreds in Anchorage

An estimated 900 people attended the EPA's public comment meeting on the Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment at Wendy Williamson Auditorium in Anchorage Monday, June 4th.

An estimated 900 people packed the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at UAA in Anchorage for a presentation and public comment on the draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed. The document is the Environmental Protection Agency’s take on the impact that a large mine such as the Pebble Mine could have in Southwest Alaska.

140 people were allowed to comment on the document for 2 minutes each. Verner Wilson, an Alaska Native Commercial Fisherman, originally from Dillingham praised the EPA for stepping in to help his people protect their resources.

“Pebble Deposit may be on state land, but this is an international resource. This is a national resource and this is a resource that is important for local people and so I’m glad that the EPA is taking the leadership to protect our fishery.”

Republican State Senator Kathy Giessel was critical of the EPA's Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment during her two-minute testimony.

The draft assessment, which was released last month, tries to quantify the risks of large-scale mining to wetlands and rivers with fish. The Parnell administration calls it premature, and has pledged a fight if the EPA invokes it 404C3 veto power over the project. Many who testified accused the EPA of treading on states’ rights. Republican State Senator Kathy Giessel used her two minutes of testimony chastise the agency.

“The unprecedented preemptive action by the EPA will destroy Alaska’s future as a resource utilization state. Destroying jobs and opportunity for our citizens.”

But Retired State Senate President turned anti-pebble activist Rick Halford, had a different take. He said the state was actually to blame for the feds getting involved. The state’s lax enforcement of water quality standards, of water use permits, the state’s joining with those who worked against the citizens who tried to sue and go to court.

“We see the Pebble Mine and the state of Alaska against Alaska citizens in numerous lawsuits. You are not here as someone from the outside, you are here at the request of the original people of the area and the of the overwhelming majority of the population of the area.”

Two activists hold anti-Pebble Mine posters in a back row of the Wendy Williamson Auditorium during an EPA public comment meeting on the Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment.

John Shively, the CEO of the Pebble Partnership, the Alaska company which stands to gain a considerable sum if the mine goes through, said the EPA was moving too fast.

“It’s rushed. Why a hearing only two weeks after the report is out? Why only 60 days to comment? What is the rush? If your science is good, then people should have the time to look at it.”

Some called for the comment period on the  to be extended.  Dennis McLerran, administrator for the EPA’s Region 10 office in Seattle says that request is under consideration. Meantime he says he wants people to know that this week is their opportunity to contribute to the assessment.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrators Dennis McLerran and Rick Parkin present a draft version of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment before hundreds at UAA's Wendy Williamson Auditorium Monday, June 4th.

“This is an opportunity for people to take a look at what our best scientists have put together and make sure that we get their local knowledge in there as well.”

The EPA is holding meetings on the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment in Dillingham and Naknek today. In addition, there will be meetings in Levelock & Igiugig on Wednesday and Nondalton and New Stuyahok on Thursday. EPA officials used the Anchorage meeting to announce that they’ve appointed team of scientists to their peer review. The public has 30 days to submit questions for the scientists to answer. Their report will be included in in the final version of the EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment which is due out by the end of the year.

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