Bristol Bay residents provide input to EPA

Top decision-makers involved in the ongoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Bristol Bay watershed assessment took an informative boat ride along the Nushagak River early this month after coming north to meet with community members in Newhalen, Ekwok, Koliganek, New Stuyahok, and Dillingham. In each village, EPA representatives met with community members-and got a little taste of local life.

The group, which included EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s senior policy advisor as well as representatives from EPA’s Seattle based Region 10, had traveled to gather input for their assessment of whether large development projects will have unacceptable impacts on fish populations of the Kvichak and Nushagak river drainage-and ultimately, on the salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay. Assessment lead manager Richard Parkin explained the group was interested in answers to questions such as “If [the Bristol Bay watershed] is an extraordinary resource, what is it that makes it so?”

Responses from the communities ranged from comments about EPA’s use of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), to stories of the just-starting fish-run, details on what subsistence foods residents eat, and an invite to see a local smokehouse. Recurring themes included the community’s dependence on subsistence, the expense of having food items shipped in versus depending on local resources (gas is now $6.75/gallon locally), and the importance of clean water to maintaining this lifestyle.

Another question from the EPA representatives was why some communities and tribal entities had asked EPA to use the 404c process to limit or prevent discharge from the Pebble project. The group expects to have a decision on whether to take that or another action “by next summer,” Parkin said.

Also in attendance was BBNC President Jason Metrokin, who delivered BBNC’s message that the science bears out that Pebble mine and the fishery cannot coexist. He shared copies of the June issue of the Pebble Watch newsletter. While thanking EPA for its sensitivity in reaching out to the Tribes, he also informed the group that BBNC is also recognized by some federal agencies as a Tribal entity, and as a landowner would welcome the same level of involvement in this process.

The EPA, in conjunction with Alaska Department of Natural Resources, also conducted mining information sessions in Newhalen and Dillingham, covering the topics of Mining Fundamentals, Environmental Concerns & Issues, Agencies & Regulatory Process, and How Tribes Can Be Involved. These presentations are available at EPA’s Bristol Bay web site.

Pebble Watch team members attended both community visits and mining information sessions. An overview will appear in the next issue of the Pebble Watch newsletter.