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Proposed regulations could block Pebble Mine

By Bonney Bowman 3:43 PM July 18, 2014

A new proposal by the EPA could block the development of a mine in Bristol Bay.

The regulations are meant to protect the region from the effects of copper mining, but opponents say the EPA is overstepping its bounds.

The EPA says a mine, like the one proposed by the Pebble Partnership, would jeopardize the fishing industry in Bristol Bay.

The Pebble Partnership says while they’re glad the EPA didn’t veto the project outright, they haven’t even applied for permits yet and they think the agency is being preemptive.

The proposed regulations limit the impact mining can have on wetlands and streams salmon rely on to reach their spawning grounds.

It would restrict mining activity that results in the loss of five or more miles of stream salmon use, the loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands connected to those streams and limits stream flow alterations.

The fishing industry in Bristol Bay is worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year and supports Alaska Native communities.

The EPA says a mine, like the one the Pebble Partnership presented to potential investors, would be larger then Manhattan and almost as deep as the Grand Canyon.

But Pebble leaders say the EPA should have waited until the group presented a formal plan and entered the permitting process to make a decision about its impact.

“We’re kind of in a catch-22 in that people say ‘well, we want to see your plan but we also don’t want to rush one out the door.’ We want to make sure we have the opportunity to present a responsible plan to Alaskans, given the intense interest in our project,” said Mike Heatwole, Pebble Partnership vice president of public affairs.

The Pebble Partnership and the state of Alaska are currently engaged in a legal battle with the EPA about whether or not the agency can place conditions on the project before permits are filed.

But for the tribes living in Bristol Bay, this proposal is a long time coming. They say they’re overjoyed by the agency’s decision to prevent catastrophic damage to the pristine ecosystem so many people rely on for survival.

“We were very, very concerned about metallic sulfide mining and how it would affect the watershed, how it would affect the world’s largest sockeye salmon run left on the face of the planet,” said United Tribes of Bristol Bay representative Alannah Hurley.

The EPA’s guidelines are just a proposal at this point. You can still weigh in.

The agency will be holding public hearings the week of August 11. Oral and written comments on EPA’s proposal will be accepted at the following hearings:

  • Anchorage: Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 2 p.m.
Egan Center – Cook and Artegan Rooms
  • New Stuyahok Wednesday, Aug. 13 at 5 p.m.
Cetuyaraq Community Center
  • Nondalton: Wednesday, Aug. 13 at 5 p.m.
Nondalton Community Center
  • Kokhanok: Thursday, Aug. 14, 5 p.m.
Location to be announced
  • Dillingham: Thursday, Aug. 14 at 5 p.m.
Middle School Gymnasium
  • Iliamna: Friday, Aug. 15 at 12 p.m.
Community Center
  • Igiugig: Friday, Aug. 15 at 12 p.m.
Tribal Hall

Comments can also be submitted online through Sept. 19. Based on what they hear from you, the EPA will then take another look at the proposal.

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