Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency arrived in Dillingham Thursday morning, meeting with fishers and community leaders to gather opinions on the proposed development of Pebble Mine.
“It’s important to hear people’s views on all sides of the issue,” said Matt Leopold, the EPA’s general counsel. “And here in Dillingham I can tell right away that people are opposed to the project.”
When the EPA contingent pulled into the town’s boat yard, it was met by a crowd of fishers and protesters who had gathered to chat with the visitors. One group of demonstrators waited by the side of the road with anti-Pebble signs and flags in an attempt to send a message to the EPA group as they drove into town from the airport.
Anna Borland-Ivey, one of the sign-bearing protesters, said she is committed to keep fighting, but appeals to the EPA can feel futile.
“You can’t fight the few people that have money that want something done, it seems like,” Borland-Ivey said. “Many of us had thought that we had won, or at least put the mine off until we can do it in a more environmentally safe way. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening.”
While the EPA does not issue the permit to build the mine, it has the ability to essentially veto the decision of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is the agency responsible for issuing the permit. The EPA holds the power to block the Army Corps’ decision through Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.
Additionally, the EPA has submitted comments on the draft environmental review of the project. The final date to submit comments on the draft is July 1.
Protesters and officials alike remarked on Thursday morning’s turnout. Leopold said he was impressed that so many people came out to meet them.
“That’s exactly why I wanted to come up here,” Leopold said. “It’s not right for people 4,000 miles away in Washington to make decisions without local views by the people who are most impacted.”
In the afternoon, the EPA visitors met with community organizations such as the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Their trip to Alaska also included visits to Anchorage and Iliamna before the final stop in Dillingham.
The EPA group was comprised of officials from both Washington, D.C. and Seattle – including members of the agency’s Office of Water and Oceans & Coastal Protection Division.
Three of the EPA representatives visiting on Thursday were also part of the EPA’s previous most recent trip to Dillingham. David Allnutt, Lee Forsgren and Russell Kaiser were part of a group that held listening sessions in October 2017.