EPA Holding Bristol Bay Watershed Draft Assessment Public Comment Hearings

The EPA is holding a public comment hearing on its draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed until 9:00 p.m. Monday night in Anchorage. There will be more hearings around the state on the assessment later this week. Advocates for and against the proposed Pebble Mine are reacting to the assessment with differing and predictable points of view.

The draft assessment is just that – a draft. It does not have legal authority, and does not rule in any direction. But some opponents of the mine see the assessment as potentially good news, including Bella Hammond. She’s the wife of former governor Jay Hammond.

She says the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay and the mine can’t coexist.

“The fishery is far more important … it’s a wonderful source of protein,” Hammond said.

And it’s more than just food, she’s also worried about the mine’s potential effects on the long-lived fishing culture on Bristol Bay.

The opponents to the mine aren’t the only ones reading the tea leaves.

Industry officials are lashing out at the EPA over the draft assessment

“If they’re going to do something, it’ll be something aimed right at Pebble. Even though they say the report is not about Pebble, we’re mentioned in the executive summary 25 times,” John Shively, the head of the Pebble Partnership – the company aiming to mine Bristol Bay for all sorts of metals, including copper and gold, said.

Shively says the Pebble Partnership has spent more than $120 million and eight years, studying whether mining there is worth it.

But the EPA, he contends, rushed its research, analyzing 20,000 square miles in less than a year. Pebble Partnership has not finished applying for the permits, and the EPA admits it is unusual to release an assessment prior to permitting.

To Shively, that looks like an overzealous federal agency regulating state waters – something he says, the state is in charge of.

“If you want to do the watershed assessment, you ought to do it correctly. And if you’re going to do the assessment correctly, it’s going to take you several years. So you ought to go back and get that piece right,” Shively said.

You can expect to hear the same arguments from both sides until the final assessment comes out. The EPA says that will likely come by the end of the year.

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