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EPA to release draft Bristol Bay assessment in spring

February 8th 4:06 pm | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article   Create a Shortlink for this article

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to release its draft revised assessment document of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment this spring and complete the assessment in 2013.

In a statement at the Alaska Forum on the Environment on Tuesday, EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran spoke to the controversial watershed assessment, telling the audience what to expect as far as a timeline for releasing the draft document. The EPA plans to let peer reviewers have another look at the EPA's revised document, McLerran said.

"Today, I am announcing that we will be releasing a draft revised assessment document this spring and will be seeking additional public comment on that draft," McLerran said, according to a written copy of his speech released to press. "We are making arrangements to have the original 12 independent experts review the revised assessment and evaluate whether the revised draft has been responsive to their peer review comments. We intend to complete the assessment in 2013 after this additional round of review and comment is completed."

The EPA, which launched the assessment of the potential impact from mining in the watershed of the rich fishing ground last year, has faced criticism from many, including Alaska's lawmakers, who said the federal agency has overstepped its bounds. Today, the EPA critics also included those opposed to the Pebble Mine, a copper and gold mine prospect located in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Pebble opponents released several statements Tuesday calling on the EPA to quicken the pace of its action, and switch to a path that included limiting future mining development in the watershed area.

Trout Unlimited, a conservation group focused on protecting North America's coldwater fisheries, said in a statement it was disappointed to learn that the EPA planned a second review of its assessment.

"While we appreciate this Administration's efforts to survey the risks and impacts of large-scale mining on the world-class natural resources and fisheries of Bristol Bay with sound science, the EPA has already gone above and beyond the letter of the law in drafting its Assessment and conducting an independent and transparent review of it," said Tim Bristol, Alaska Program Director for Trout Unlimited. "This added delay is unacceptable to Bristol Bay's communities and stakeholders, and leaves a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over Bristol Bay's 14,000 jobs and its commercial and sport fishing industries."

In another release, tribal leaders offered similar criticism.

"The people of the Bristol Bay region have been living with the impact of Pebble's presence for many years, said Tom Tilden, Curyung Tribal Council Chief. "We are suffering social and cultural harm from the proposed Pebble mine. We go to bed every night with this conflict heavy on our minds. EPA has received a clear mandate from our region to take action to stop the harm that the Pebble project is causing in our communities; we urge them to act now."

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation offered similar criticism.

"In 2010 we asked the EPA to initiate a 404C action to protect Bristol Bay," said Jason Metrokin, CEO and President of the corporation. "We have been fully engaged in the watershed assessment process, which corroborated what residents of the region have known for generations, this is a one of a kind fishery and cultural resource that merits protection. It's time for the EPA to act on Bristol Bay."

The EPA, however, has said repeatedly that it would not move forward with any action until it completed its assessment.

"As I have said previously, we have not made any decisions yet about how we will use the information in the assessment and will not do so until it's finalized," McLerran said.

The Region 10 head said the agency's top priority continues to be getting the assessment right.

"Our primary objective is to make sure that we have gotten the assessment right and are using the best available science," McLerran said. "The Bristol Bay salmon runs are an Alaskan treasure and no one wants to see them harmed, so we want to make sure we have the best understanding possible of what the impacts of large scale mining could be on the salmon."

Carey Restino can be reached at crestino@reportalaska.com.

 

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