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Alaska Native groups want EPA to extend Bristol Bay watershed public comment

Lisa Reimers and Trefon Angasan
Loren Holmes photo

While nine tribal groups and one regional corporation invited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate an unprecedented 404c process that resulted in a hastily published draft watershed assessment in Bristol Bay, seven of the twelve Alaska Native Regional Corporations, sixteen tribal groups and village corporations, and hundreds of individuals — primarily Alaska Natives — have called upon the EPA to extend the public comment period so that their members and shareholders may have sufficient time to review the document and provide meaningful input into this process.

Many made this request after the EPA had indicated it would not extend the public comment window and have started to weigh in as they learn more about what is at stake.

The organizations have not taken formal positions about the proposed Pebble Mine Project yet have expressed concerns about the EPA's activities in Southwest Alaska due to the far reaching precedent it could have on future development activities on Native and village corporation land.

Of note:

Barrow-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp. indicated that "Of greatest concern is the prospect that EPA could use the highly general information and speculative conclusions reported in the BBWA as a basis, under Section 404(c), to prohibit consideration of any dredge or fill permits in this region. It is troubling that a decision to put a huge area with enormous resource potential off-limits could be based on an assessment performed without ever having received, let alone given careful and deliberate consideration to, any specific permit application or project proposal. The nation's environmental laws are premised on the belief that science, rather than the kind of general information and speculation contained in the BBWA, should govern decisions."

Iliamna Village Council stated that "Since the EPA chose to hold hearings in Seattle to accommodate for the schedules of Bristol Bay commercial fisherman, we hope similar consideration will be given to the native residents of Alaska who use this time of year for a range of culturally important matters."

Kokhanok Village Council stated "We appreciate the time and meetings you have held with us thus far, but as you know, they have mainly been to talk about process and time frames; not the content and implications of the assessment."

Calista Corp. noted that "EPA has taken action and conducted activities beyond its authorized jurisdiction and budget by undertaking a watershed assessment of Bristol Bay in reaction to a potential project which might occur sometime in the future. An agency that currently fails to meet required actions and time table in its existing regulatory programs but has expended time and resources on an effort which was not required is neither fiscally prudent nor objective."

Alaska Peninsula Corp. stated that the assessment falls during the busiest time of year for its shareholders, "For, as you know, our shareholders reside in the Bristol Bay watershed, and are engaged in subsistence hunting and fishing, as well as commercial fishing during the short window the EPA is presently allowing for public comments."

Letters and comments have also been received by Doyon, Ltd., Bering Straits Native Corp., CIRI, Ahtna, Aleut Corp., Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Newhalen Tribal Council, South Naknek Village Council, Naknek Native Village, Tyonek Native Corp., Iliamna Natives Ltd., Sun'aq Tribe, Egegik Village Tribal Council, Chignik Bay Tribal Council, Chignik Lagoon Village Council, Native Council of Port Heiden, and Gana-A'Yoo, Ltd. along with hundreds of individual signatures calling upon the EPA and Alaska's Congressional Delegation to extend the comment window.

"Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young heard our concerns and helped us by making an appeal on our behalf to the EPA. We've done just about everything we can to help our people to have an opportunity to play a role in this critical process about our future," said Nuna Resources board member and Iliamna Development Corp. CEO Lisa Reimers.

"We've long stated that the EPA has an obligation to consult with our shareholders. We certainly hope someone in that vast agency understands the concerns expressed via this outpouring from Native people from across the state," said Trefon Angasan, board member of Nuna Resources and chairman of Alaska Peninsula Corp..

Reimers and Angasan noted that more letters, resolutions, and signatures arrive each day.

Nuna Resources mission is to advocate for a sustainable economy in Bristol Bay, including support for responsible resource development and advocating for due process. This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission.

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