Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Peer Review of Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment Gets Under Way

A public peer review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment got underway Aug. 7 in Anchorage, with more than 100 people testifying on the pros and cons of the document.

John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership, led off the testimony, calling the EPA’s assessment a “fantasy mine that EPA uses to measure the potential impacts on this very large watershed,” one that “has no basis in reality in the 21st century.

Shively’s remarks were echoed by others, including Michael Satre, executive director of the Council of Alaska Producers, who called the draft assessment “a classic case of garbage in, garbage out.”

Dennis McLerran, Region 10 administrator for the EPA in Seattle, speaking with reporters during a break in the meeting, said the EPA doesn’t see the document as fantasy. “We think it’s based on what’s been put forward by actual mining companies,” he said.

Many others who testified supported the EPA document, including Kendra Zamzow, a geochemist with the nonprofit Center for Science in Public Participation. “The waters are so pure there is no room for error in collection or wastewater treatment,” she told the panel.

Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks, an environmental group, spoke of a new study of copper mines, which showed a record of pipeline spills and other accidental spills of toxic materials.

Several Alaska Natives from Bristol Bay, including commercial and subsistence fishermen, also addressed the panel, in support of the EPA document.

The peer review began just two days after the end of Salmonstock, a celebration of wild Alaska salmon and the people who depend on them, Aug. 3-5 at Ninilchik, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

Well over 5,000 supporters came to mingle in the rain and support the cause.

That was more than double the number of people who turned out for the first Salmonstock a year ago, drawing Alaskans from all over the state, said Anders Gustafson, executive director of the host Renewable Resources Coalition.

A lot of new people came for the music and went away a little more knowledgeable about issues facing wild salmon, Gustafson said.

Event planners used the music of many bands to draw crowds to get their message out, including Leftover Salmon of Boulder, Colorado, which describes its music as "polyethnic Cajun slamgrass," or a blend of Cajun/Zydeco, bluegrass and rock.

Rain clouds and temperatures in the 50s that prevailed over much of the event failed to dampen the spirits of the crowd of people of all ages, who danced to the music or rocked with Hula-Hoops, and mingled at food and educational booths.

"The bands themselves have been very educated and are taking the message with them to the Lower 48,” Gustafson said.

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