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Bristol Bay deserves due process

  • Author: Katherine Carscallen
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 4
  • Published May 4

FILE PHOTO: Sockeye salmon are seen in Bristol Bay, Alaska, in an undated handout picture provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Environmental Protection Agency/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

There's been an atmosphere of uncertainty and unease hanging over Bristol Bay's people and fishermen during the past decade. The threat of an open-pit mine, and the mining district it would bring to our region, is the cause. Now the company behind the proposed Pebble Mine has filed its permit application with the federal government, and that uncertainty is turning to fear in our region and commercial fishing fleet. It's a fear that our way of life, our investments, our businesses and our marketing efforts could all be traded away by decision-makers who seem to prioritize a foreign mining's company's profit over an American industry, a sustainable domestic food supply and a generational way of life.

I was encouraged by Sen. Lisa Murkowski's recent call to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the "scoping" timeline for Pebble's Environmental Impact Statement. With hope that the EIS process was indeed my opportunity to weigh in in a meaningful way, I attended the scoping meeting in Dillingham with optimism. Within minutes of the meeting starting however, that optimism was quickly dashed. The meeting, adorned with posters and promotional materials provided by the mining company, was nothing more than an hour-long advertisement for the Pebble Limited Partnership.

After viewing the newest mine plan and participating in this process, I am now convinced that merely extending the scoping deadline is not going to be enough to ensure this is a fair review. This process should instead be put on hold for several reasons: First, the method the Army Corps is utilizing for gathering public testimony is unfairly designed to limit quality input from downstream fishing communities. Simply put, the Army Corps made the choice to pick winners and losers when it came to public testimony.

Two of the biggest losers were Dillingham and Homer, two great hubs of Alaska's fishing industry. Rather than provide an open format in which community members could hear what has been said and expand on it, creating a wider and more complete record of testimony, the Army Corps chose to have the citizens of Dillingham and Homer speak privately to a court reporter in the corner. One reason cited by the Army Corps for this move? The fear that testimony would be overwhelmed by "activists." What the Army Corps staff fails to understand is that the opposition to this mine is not the result of activism. This region revolves around fishing. And the threat of the Pebble Mine is an unacceptable assault on our lives here. If we rally or protest, it is because we have been suffering this threat for more than a decade and we will not accept unfair treatment. The process should not punish communities that are taking an active role in protecting our way of life.

Next, there is the Pebble Limited Partnership's proposed mine plan and permit. The Army Corps should never have initiated the scoping process based on what they've been given. It is hard to see how the small mine PLP presented could even be economically feasible, and indeed, unlike every other mining proposal in Alaska's history, PLP has yet to publish an economic feasibility study on its proposal. That's just the start of the problems with the application. In addition, the partnership pretends it would shut down operations and reclaim the site after mining less than a tenth of the resource. It plans for a transportation corridor that calls for an untested and unproven icebreaking barge on Lake Iliamna. Finally, as far as I can see, they have not put a minute of work into any environmental baseline studies for their proposed port, 50 miles of road and a new gas pipeline that would traverse Cook Inlet. The takeaway? The mine plan is a rushed, irresponsible draft meant to meet political, rather than permitting, deadlines.

Here in Bristol Bay, we are about to enter another fishing season with an estimated 51 million fish forecast to return to our rivers. This should be a time of hope and anticipation. Instead, Bristol Bay is under assault. I am pleading with our senators, congressman, and governor: Please put a stop to this. Stop the permitting process until Pebble has a real permit to submit, has the baseline environmental data to support it and has an economic feasibility study to prove this is more than just a ploy to garner investors. Don't allow one of the most paramount natural resource decisions in Alaska's history to be made without the due process Bristol Bay's people, water and salmon deserve.

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