An independent team of scientists in Anchorage has completed its critique of a lengthy draft Bristol Bay watershed report compiled by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Now the federal agency hopes to complete its final report by the end of the year, after which it will make a decision on whether to stop development of the massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine.
Dennis McLerran, administrator of EPA Region 10 in Seattle, said the goal is to get the science right before making any final decisions. At this point, no decision has been made on which of the available Clean Water Act options to use, depending on conclusions reached, McLerran said.
Of the more than 200,000 people who submitted written comments on the draft assessment, roughly 90 percent of them supported the EPA’ s draft document findings, McLerran noted in a news conference Aug. 7, during a break in public testimony before the peer review panel of 12 scientists selected by EPA’s contractor, Versar. Versar served as the facilitator for the three-day event, which included a day of public testimony, a day of public discussion by the peer reviewers and then a day for the peer reviewers to privately compile their comments, which were given to Versar to prepare the overall summary for the EPA.
The final peer review report is to be released to the public by the EPA later this fall.
The controversial mine plan, developed for the Pebble Limited Partnership has over the past several years drawn both criticism and support from thousands of individuals, and business and professional groups and organizations nationwide.
The big concern among opponents of the mine, who include thousands of people involved in commercial, sport and subsistence fishing, is that the mine will have adverse effects on habitat critical to the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery, the largest such fishery in the world, which provides thousands of jobs and sustenance to people, as well as food for wildlife throughout the Bristol Bay region.
Mining proponents contend that the mine can be built and operate in harmony with the fishery, a stance questioned by at least several of the peer review scientists.