Environmental Protection Agency officials held the first of seven public hearings in Anchorage on the evening of Aug. 12, drawing a cross-section of opponents and supporters of the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska.
EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran made it clear that the restrictions would apply only to the copper, gold and molybdenum mine proposed by the Pebble Limited Partnership. According to EPA records, said McLerran, the stream and wetland losses from a mine this size would be unprecedented in Alaska and perhaps the nation.
In a statement issued in advance of the hearing, the Resource Development Council in Anchorage, which supports the mine, urged its membership to testify before the Sept. 19 comment deadline on the proposal. The Resource Development Council said the proposed determination “focuses on the effects of a mining project that has not been proposed, and for which key engineering solutions, environmental safeguards, and mitigation measures have not been provided.
“This is a deeply flawed speculative approach,” the council said.
Among the mine supporters at the EPA hearing was Tom Collier, chief executive of PLP. He began his comments by saying, “It’s ludicrous that we’re having a public hearing 17 business days after you released a 200-page technical report. I think this hearing is much more about show than it is about substance.”
Commercial and sport fishing organizations and Native Alaskans in the Bristol Bay region are voicing strong opposition to the mine.
Bobby Andrew, a spokesman for Nunumta Alukestai, Caretakers of the Land, a nonprofit of tribal corporations in the Bristol Bay region, was one of several people who spoke about the recent tailings dam breeching of the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia and the impact a similar event could have on the Bristol Bay watershed. The Mount Polley tailings pond dam failure has heightened concerns by opponents of the mine that a similar situation could happen in Bristol Bay.
Charles Treinen, vice president of United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 37 fishing trade associations, reiterated UFA’s position that is appropriate for EPA to utilize its authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate placement of dredge and fill materials that would affect water quality of the Bristol Bay watershed.
Bob Waldrop, former executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, expressed his thanks to EPA for their analysis of Pebble’s likely impact on the world-renowned wild sockeye salmon fishery. But Waldrop said he is concerned that the proposed determination may not be sufficiently rigorous.
He urged EPA to complete the process by asserting the tightest possible restrictions.
“The process,” said Waldrop, “justifies it and the salmon require it.”