Native council asks to rescind comments about EPA study of Bristol Bay
The Iliamna Village Council president Lorene Anelon said her council does not support keeping lands in the Bristol Bay watershed area off limits to exploration and development, however, the council previously submitted an analysis to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that supports the agency’s conclusions about the potentially negative impacts of large-scale mining in the region.
The council asked that the analysis be rescinded, but the EPA said the analysis will remain part of the public record, the Associated Press reported.
The analysis of the EPA’s report by Donald Macalady, professor emeritus of chemistry and geochemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, also suggested broader impacts than what the EPA looked at in its revised watershed assessment released in April.
The Associated Press reported that Macalady’s review was accompanied by a letter from Anelon, dated June 29, in which she expressed frustration with the EPA process.
Days later, she submitted a council resolution, dated July 2, rescinding the review and directing it not be made part of the official record as the council's position. The resolution says the council “inadvertently” sent in written testimony signed by Anelon and that Anelon hired Macalady “without full authority of the Council” to submit testimony for the EPA comment period.
“Closure of such Bristol Bay lands will cause hardship to many Native families of the impact area,” Anelon wrote.
She requested government-to-government consultations to discuss the merits of the EPA report.
The EPA said comments made to the public comment docket cannot be retrieved once submitted. Policy dictates that to make changes, people must submit another comment referring to their previous comment correcting any errors and/or re-stating their position or opinion, EPA said.
June 30 was the deadline for comments on the EPA’s revised assessment, which found construction of a large-scale mine near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery could have major impacts on streams and wetlands even without a mishap. A final report is expected later this year and could affect permitting decisions for the proposed Pebble Mine project.
The Pebble Limited Partnership, has said the mine could create thousands of new jobs in the region during construction and beyond, something supporters see as huge for economically depressed rural Alaska. Critics, however, say developing the project could fundamentally change the landscape and way of life in the region.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently called on Pebble to release a mine plan soon, saying they are contributing to uncertainty surrounding the project.
Anelon’s June 29 letter laid out perceived shortcomings of the EPA assessment and said the community was not being given as great a voice in the process as it should be. She said Iliamna will be significantly affected by whatever happens with the project.
Macalady, in his review, said build-out from the mine “will change forever the cultural and social environment of the region. Additional development is a possibility, but it is difficult to imagine what would be the economic basis for this development. Fisheries will probably be gone, sporting activities that are attractive to wilderness lovers will be very limited due to mining damages to the landscape. Economic survival in the post-mining environment could be much more difficult than it is at present.”
Macalady said that he had not heard from the council since submitting the report. He did not know if the full council signed off on his hiring.
He said he had been following the issue for several years but brought no agenda to his work.