Draft watershed assessment goes to peer review
Cordoba Times | Margaret Bauman
August 10, 2012
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A panel of scientists was weighing in Aug. 7-9 on the merits of a draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment, as well as comments from several dozen people speaking passionately in support and opposition of the proposed Pebble mine.
The panel was directed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which produced the draft document, to listen to testimony from people pre-registered to address the meeting, hold an open discussion focused on the scientific merit of the document and then prepare written comments for EPA’s contractor, Versar.
Versar will prepare the overall summary to be included with the 12 individual reviews and produce a final peer review report, which will be released to the public by the EPA later this fall.
The EPA expects to complete its assessment by the end of the year. No decision has been made on which of the available Clean Water Act options to use, depending on conclusions reached, said Dennis McLerran, administrator of EPA Region 10.
Controversy over the proposed massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine began several years ago, in a now ongoing debate over whether such a huge mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed would adversely affect fish habitat. Bristol Bay is the home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, a multi-million dollar business employing thousands of people from commercial harvesters to fishing guides and lodge owners. The fishery has also, for thousands of years, provided food to subsistence harvesters and wildlife in residence in the watershed.
The Pebble Limited Partnership maintains that the mine and the fishery can co-exist, but opponents of the mine, like Bonnie Gestring of the environmental group Earthworks, say such mines have a record of adverse environmental affects.
“The record shows that 100 percent of those mines experienced a pipeline spill, or other accidental spill of toxic material,” Gestring said. “Most experienced multiple spills.” Earthworks, in fact, distributed its report on 14 domestic copper mines a day in advance of the hearings.
John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership, led off testimony on Aug. 7, with testimony critical of the EPA draft assessment.
“The fantasy mine that EPA uses to measure the potential impacts on this very large watershed has no basis in reality in the 21st century,” Shively said.
Michael Satre, a mining geologist and executive director of the Council of Alaska Producers, a mining industry group, agreed with Shively. “This is a classic case of garbage in, garbage out,” said Satre, adding that without permit applications in hand, the situation cannot be accessed properly.
McLerran, speaking with reporters during a break in testimony, disagreed with Shively’s comments.
“We don’t think it’s a fantasy,” he said. “We think it’s based on what’s been put forward by actual mining companies.
McLerran noted that of the more than 200,000 people who submitted written comments on the assessment, roughly 90 percent of them supported the EPA’s draft document findings.
Others weighing in on the issue spoke of concerns ranging from a threat to the cultural heritage and lifestyle of Alaska Native people who have lived in the region for thousands of years to the need for employment. “It’s really hard for us to raise money and a lot of our kids, including my brother, does drugs,” said Sarah McCarr, an Alaska Native resident of Bristol Bay, who had tears running down her cheeks.
McCarr, who has worked for the Pebble Limited Partnership, said she saw Pebble as an economic opportunity. Other Alaska Native residents of Bristol Bay, including Kim Williams and Russell Nelson of Dillingham, Greg Andrew Jr. of Levelock, Herman Nelson of Koliganek, and Sharon Clark of Clarks Point, supported the EPA document.
“Salmon is who we are and it is important that we preserve it,” said Tom Tilden, speaking for the Curyung Tribal Council at Dillingham.