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Public hearings on EPA’s proposed Pebble ban this week

Brian Venua
From left to right: BBEDC Board Chair Robin Samuelsen, BBNA Natural Resources Director Gayla Hoseth, UTBB Board Member Tommy Tilden, UTBB Executive Director Alannah Hurley, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay Executive Director Katherine Carscallen, Bristol Bay Native Corporation Board Chairman Russel Nelson

The Environmental Protection Agency moved to restrict mining of the Pebble deposit last month, but its proposal does not restrict other mining in the region. On June 1, local leaders held a press conference and discussed the agency’s proposed protections for waters and wetlands around the Pebble deposit.

The panel featured representatives from the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, the Bristol Bay Native Association, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, and United Tribes of Bristol Bay.

BBNA Natural Resources Director Gayla Hoseth said at the press conference this is still not enough.

“While this is an important step, we need comprehensive protection so future generations are not faced with this threat,” she said.

The EPA proposed to restrict mining waste disposal in watersheds associated with the Pebble Mine, invoking its authority under a section of the Clean Water Act.

In the executive summary of the proposed determination, the EPA said the discharge of materials associated with the mine would negatively affect the area’s salmon habitat.

“The direct effects and certain secondary effects of such discharges would result in the total loss of aquatic habitats important to anadromous fishes,” it said.

This would affect three watersheds in the area; the North Fork Koktuli River, South Fork Koktuli River, and the Upper Talarik Creek watersheds.

The four pillars of the decision include:

  • The loss of about 8.5 miles of known salmon spawning grounds 
  • The loss of over 91 miles of additional streams that support those grounds
  • The loss of over 2000 acres of wetlands in the watershed
  • Reducing flow to nearly 30 more miles of other streams

United Tribes of Bristol Bay Board Member Tommy Tilden said Bristol Bay has the opportunity to learn from other regions and rivers.
“We don’t want to go the way of the Humboldt River, where there are no further salmon in that river,” said Tilden. “We need to continue to save what we have so that it feeds the nation, it feeds our people. It feeds the three ethnic groups that live in our area.” 

The EPA will host public hearings both virtually and in-person in Dillingham on June 16 and in Newhalen on June 17.

Robin Samuelsen is the board chairman for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. He stressed the importance of testifying.

“It isn't walking in, this is going to be a little different,” he said. “You need to pre-register to testify. I know we're all busy with salmon season with our subsistence. But we need you to come out and protect Bristol Bay for future generations.”

KDLG reached out to a few people who have previously voiced support for the proposed Pebble Mine, however none responded in time for this broadcast.

In previous public hearings, supporters of the Pebble project have pointed to an increase in jobs and boosts for the local economy.

People can submit written comments on the proposal through July 5. Anyone who wants to testify can register ahead of time at epa.gov/bristolbay, and can also register in person at the hearings.

Correction: People can also register to testify on site, and do not have to register online ahead of time, as previously reported.

Contact the author at Brian@kdlg.org or call (907) 842-2200

Brian Venua grew up in Dillingham and attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. He got his start in journalism at KDLG in 2020, interviewing and writing for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report and signed on as a full-time host and reporter later that year.
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