By the Bay: February 7, 2020

Feb 7, 2020

On the show this week: an update on the flooding in Newhalen, a look at Pebble's compensatory mitigation plan, Nushagak Peninsula lichens and more. 

Izaiah Gomez, 8, and Boe Kolbe, 8, play on a mountain of snow near the Dillingham school, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
Credit KDLG/Isabelle Ross

Listen to the full show here:


We’re going to kick things off this afternoon on Lake Iliamna, where an ice

Flooding in the lower village of Newhalen, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.
Credit Catherine Rohlman

jam at the mouth of the Newhalen River flooded parts of the community’s lower village for several days. The water has receded by about two feet since it rose last week. The Lake and Peninsula Borough issued a local disaster emergency last weekend. Borough Manager Nathan Hill was in Newhalen on Tuesday. Here’s what he said about the situation:

 

According to city officials, the smokehouses by the river were partially underwater. The flood also threatened the sewage lagoon, as well as to sewer lines for residences and the school. Gladys Askoak, Newhalen's city clerk, said residents near the flood first alerted the city to the situation.

 

Berms put in place to protect that infrastructure held up. This week's temperatures were much warmer than last week, and that also helped alleviate some of the river's icy conditions. 

The state’s first mobile DMV is on the move after its pilot run in New Stuyahok. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation and Department of Motor Vehicles issued 94 REAL IDs, and more than 23 road tests for driver permits.

BBNC’s Faith Andrew in New Stuyahok was the proctor for both tests. Despite some challenges, she was happy overall with the results.

 

The largest challenge was that some residents didn’t have proper documentation. BBNC’s Martha Anelon worked on the program, and she says they had to turn some people away.

With a three-day trip to Port Heiden scheduled for March, Anelon wants to make sure that people know what they need. Tribal Administrator John Christensen is helping with that mission.

Port Heiden will have bunk houses and Air B&B’s available for those who travel to the village. Invites were sent out to the Chigniks, Perryville, Pilot Point and Ugashik.

After Port Heiden, the mobile DMV will make a five-day stop in Illiamna and Newhalen. BBNC is coordinating with the Lake and Peninsula Borough to set up the event for students and their guardians.

This first run of a mobile DMV was relatively successful, but there were were some challenges: the state’s camera was having issues; the internet connection was problematic at the start and an intermittent power outage slowed them down.

 

The Alaska DMV's document checklist for residents to get REAL IDs.
Credit Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles
  

The Pebble Partnership says the mine would permanently impact a total of about 3,500 acres of wetlands. Pebble has proposed a plan to offset the mine’s impacts to wetlands by funding repairs to the wastewater systems in Kokhanok, Newhalen and Nondalton, all of which are over capacity. It would also rehabilitate a minimum of 8.5 miles of fish habitat by replacing and enlarging culverts, and it would clean up marine debris around Amakdedori Point.

The Lake and Peninsula Borough worked with Pebble to develop this plan. For this week’s Manager’s Corner, I caught up with borough manager Nathan Hill to talk about the plan. The borough worked the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to identify the wastewater projects included in the plan.  

  

We also talked to Pebble Spokesperson Mike Heatwole. He outlined their process for developing the mitigation plan, saying that the first step is to avoid wetlands wherever possible, and minimize the project impacts — his example was that Pebble had changed its port design from a dredge to a lightering system. 

 

Nathan Hill had also pointed out that Pebble turned to out-of-kind sewer repairs because there just isn’t a lot of habitat to restore in Bristol Bay. 

 

Heatwole said Pebble's ability to pay for the repairs would factor into the board's “sanction decision” to move the project forward — that is, the board's final authorization of the construction and operation of the mine after it receives the necessary state and federal permits.

 

Heatwole said Pebble didn't know exactly how much the projects were going to cost — he put each project’s pricetag “in the millions” — but he did say that Pebble would cover all the costs. 

 

If the mine is permitted, the mitigation projects will have to be completed before construction of the mine begins.

For some context on compensatory mitigation, we talked to Ariel Wittenberg, the water reporter for E&E News based in Washington, D.C. She has covered Pebble extensively, and yesterday she published an article on Pebble's mitigation plan.  

 

A mat of the gray cladonia rangiferina (commonly called 'caribou moss') and yellow lichens in the Cetraria genus, on the Nushagak Peninsula, July 12, 2017.
Credit USFWS/Andy Aderman

There might be a lot of snow now, but Bristol Bay has had several warm winters recently, and the Nushagak Peninsula caribou herd has been thriving. But as they grow, they’re depleting an important food source — lichens.

The harvest limit was raised from two to five caribou at the beginning of January in an effort to curb the herd's size.

Izzy reported on manager's efforts to conserve the peninsula's lichen for Alaska's Energy Desk.

Also on today's show, we take a look at a lawsuit filed by a former Togiak resident against the City of Togiak. We also talk about potential changes to Katmai National Park, which is going to start requiring visitors to obtain permits to access the Brooks River Corridor. 

 

Andy Aderman reads from "Lichens of North America" by Irwin Brodo, Sylvia Duran Sharnoff and Steven Sharnoff. Jan. 24, 2020.
Credit KDLG/Isabelle Ross
Snow on trees lining Squaw Creek Road in Dillingham, Feb. 7, 2020.
Credit KDLG/Isabelle Ross

Correction: Pebble's ability to pay for the out-of-kind mitigation is a factor in the company's saction decision its board's final authorization of the construction and operation of the mine after it receives the necessary state and federal permits. Pebble's ability to pay for mitigation is not a factor in the federal permitting process, as was originally reported

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, give us a call at 907-842-2200 or email us at news@kdlg.org.