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Bristol Bay Area Plan meetings disappointing

April 19th, 2013 | Gerda Kosbruk Print this article   Email this article  

Although I was glad to hear that DNR was coming to Port Heiden to discuss and take public comment on the amendments to the 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan, I was extremely unhappy with the unprofessional and misleading meeting they conducted.

First, in the public notice we received (only five days before the meeting) it stated they would not only be explaining the amendments and process but we would be given the opportunity to ask questions and provide comment.

Disappointingly, this did not happen; myself and my fellow community members came to the meeting prepared to provide our testimony, as the comment period is open for the public to provide input on the Bristol Bay Area Plan, but our efforts as a community to engage in this very important process fell on deaf ears and were not recorded for the public record.

Furthermore, Bruce Phelps from DNR didn't present the material in a clear manner. It was unclear to the general public with the use of technical terms and language that he did little to try and clarify. If the purpose of this meeting was to explain to the general public the amendments and process of our own Bristol Bay Area Plan, they should have at the very least spent more time on a concise and clear presentation with a mechanism for recording the many very detailed comments and concerns our local residents brought forward.

The proposed Bristol Bay Area Plan, and the state's attitude and process, leaves us with concerns on what has and will be done to our habitat and what will be done to protect our subsistence rights.

The concerns we voiced at this meeting were of no small scale, and the answers we got were unsettling: The state will not recognize subsistence as a valid land classification in Bristol Bay, even though mining, sport hunting and fishing and other uses are given priority. The state justified this to us at their meeting, claiming that subsistence is "implied" under the habitat distinction?

So what does it tell us when this new plan has stripped the habitat classification from 94 percent of the lands that used to be classified as such? It means our lands are now grounds for other developments such as the proposed Pebble Mine, and it means important subsistence habitat lands are no longer given a priority.

Many of the same Bristol Bay tribes, and fishing organizations who sued the state over their last, illegal version of the plan - the lawsuit which lead to the state's new draft plan in the works today - are the same tribes and fishermen who have since turned to the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to ensure that harmful mining developments will not damage important salmon habitat in Bristol Bay?

We appreciate the careful process EPA is undergoing to ensure that local voices are included in its assessment in Bristol Bay, and hope in the future to see the state and DNR include our concerns with the same care and planning.

So far, what I have seen from this meeting has done nothing to alleviate our concerns and I am left questioning the state's intent in Bristol Bay.

Gerda Kosbruk is a resident of Port Heiden, Alaska.


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