By Nancy Kim
I arrived a little after 2pm and there was a lengthy queue to enter the Jackson Federal Building. Twenty places back in line was Dave McCoy wearing an anti-Pebble cap and toting a massive camera case which has become an extension of his casting arm.
We were among the 300 or so folks who turned up on May 31 for the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) meeting seeking public comment on the recently published draft of “An Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems of Bristol Bay, Alaska.” Facilitators had to open up a second room to accommodate the crowd.
More than 80 people commented, including the usual suspects from hunter and angler advocacy organizations, tribal members, conservation nonprofits, travel and tourism reps, fly rod manufacturers and other fly fishing industry folks. A couple of church groups chimed in as well invoking Christian duty to protect the watershed. Mine lobbyists found themselves among a sea of red, white and black stickers advertising that familiar anti-Pebble logo.
Conservationists hope that the EPA will initiate Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act for the proposed Bristol Bay mine site, which would help protect the area by expanding the EPA’s jurisdiction. The federal agency could deny key permits for dredging and filling.
During the course of testimony, speakers were forced to be terse with a two-minute time limit to give their two cents. The ‘no applause’ ground rule was broken a few times, but the overall tone was civil with a notable absence of booing when the pro-Pebble parties spoke.
After the meeting, I spoke to a Yupik tribal member, a woman who splits her time between Seattle and Bristol Bay. Having seen “Red Gold” multiple times, I recognized her face instantly. She makes her home near lliamna Lake on the Kvichak River. I asked her if opinion on the mine among tribal members was really divided. She said abut 80 percent of the members were opposed while only 20 percent were pro-development.
She’ll head back up to Bristol Bay in July for the sockeye run. I watched her eyes light up when she told me she was headed back to cut fish. I wished her a good season, and many more to come.
The comment period for the EPA’s draft assessment of the proposed Bristol Bay mine impacts ends on July 23.