Public Weighs in on EPA’s Bristol Bay Assessment
ANCHORAGE - The future of the Pebble Mine project took center stage in Anchorage Monday as the public got to weigh in on the Environmental Protection Agency's study on the proposed mine's location in Bristol Bay and how the area’s resources could be affected.
Depending on what side you’re on likely determines how you feel about the 32-page draft study that breaks down the impacts a gold and copper mining project would have on the world's largest undisturbed wild sockeye salmon run.
That's why Alaskans who make their living in Bristol Bay's waters came to speak in person to show how much that impact would mean to their survival.
For those who live and work in Bristol Bay the EPA’s public hearings are more than just about talking. “We are people of fish,” said Thomas Tilden, who is a Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council in Dillingham. It was about resources and what they mean to a community. “Fish is in our art, fish in our music, fish in our dance, fish is who we are,” said Tilden, who spoke for two minutes in front of the EPA officials. “People that have lived in that area depended on that salmon and want to continue to do so.”
But with the push to move forward the Pebble Mine project in the area, the EPA’s new draft report citing potential negative impacts had people lining up on both sides arguing about what that could mean for their future.
The assessment says the mine could threaten salmon habitat and population, which would alter both the economy and subsistence lifestyle in Western Alaska. It’s a big deal according to the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which says the economy has existed for hundreds of years.
Currently commercial fishing accounts for 14,000 jobs and about $480 million each year in Bristol Bay.
“The [Pebble] project, like any project, could represent jobs and value added to the economy, but the risks are far too great for the people in Bristol Bay to support,” said Bristol Bay Native Corporation President and CEO Jason Metrokin.
It’s something Lindsey Bloom knows all too well. “We fish with gill nets on drift boats in Bristol Bay.” Commercial fishing is in her family's blood, which is why she stood in line to make sure her voice was heard on the potential impacts. “Personally I would be out of a job. It’s very reasonable to ask for clean water to be protected.”
But Pebble Mine officials say it’s a rushed process based off of misinformation. “Their guesses about what the mine could do, odds about this, odds about that,” said The Pebble Partnership’s CEO John Shively, who thinks Pebble should have a right to bring a project forward and prove it can protect the fish. “We know we have to protect the fish; nobody 's ever said you should do mining instead of fish, so we have a very high standard to meet. The fish are essential out there and I wouldn't be involved in a project that was going to kill all the fish.”
But proving that to the people of Bristol Bay is a process that is still ongoing. Shively says the EPA's new study was done in less than a year in an area that was the size of the State of Virginia, compared to Pebble's study, which was done in a smaller area over eight years. He wants a 120-day public comment extension to allow Alaskans time to read through the findings. In the meantime there are six scheduled hearings throughout the state. Please click here for more information.