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Village Council seeks to rescind comments on negative impact of Pebble mine in study

Posted: July 17, 2013 - 12:05am

JUNEAU — The Iliamna Village Council has asked to rescind an analysis it submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that backs up conclusions by the federal agency about the potentially negative impacts of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region.

But the EPA said the analysis will remain part of the public record.

The analysis of the EPA’s report by Donald Macalady, professor emeritus of chemistry and geochemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, also suggested broader impacts than what the EPA looked at in its revised watershed assessment released in April.

Macalady’s review was accompanied by a letter from the village council president, Lorene Anelon, dated June 29, in which she expressed frustration with the EPA process.

Days later, she submitted a council resolution, dated July 2, rescinding the review and directing it not be made part of the official record as the council’s position. The resolution says the council “inadvertently” sent in written testimony signed by Anelon and that Anelon hired Macalady “without full authority of the Council” to submit testimony for the EPA comment period.

A letter accompanying the resolution from Anelon said the council does not support keeping lands in the watershed area off limits to exploration and development. “Closure of such Bristol Bay lands will cause hardship to many Native families of the impact area,” she wrote.

She requested government-to-government consultations to discuss the merits of the EPA report.

Messages left for Anelon at the council office were not returned.

The comments were among the thousands submitted on the EPA assessment that can be read online. The EPA, in a statement Tuesday, said comments made to the public comment docket cannot be retrieved once submitted. Policy dictates that to make changes, people must submit another comment referring to their previous comment correcting any errors and/or re-stating their position or opinion, EPA said.

June 30 was the deadline for comments on the EPA’s revised assessment, which found construction of a large-scale mine near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery could have major impacts on streams and wetlands even without a mishap. A final report is expected later this year and could affect permitting decisions for the proposed Pebble Mine project.

The group behind the project, the Pebble Limited Partnership, has said the mine could create thousands of new jobs in the region during construction and beyond, something supporters see as huge for economically depressed rural Alaska. Critics, however, say developing the massive copper-and-gold prospect could fundamentally change the landscape and way of life in the region.

Project officials have said the goal is to move into permitting this year, though that timeline has slipped before. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently called on Pebble to release a mine plan soon, saying they are contributing to uncertainty surrounding the project.

Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesman, said he’d heard rumblings about the council’s actions but his group played no role in them.

Anelon’s June 29 letter laid out perceived shortcomings of the EPA assessment and said the community wasn’t being given as great a voice in the process as it should be. She said Iliamna will be significantly affected by whatever happens with the project.

She said the concern, whether the mine is permitted or not, is on “protecting, improving and sustaining our community, culture and sovereignty throughout this process.”

She said the council also has “grave concerns” over the financial impact to the community, “positively if the mine is approved and negatively if the mine is not.”

Macalady, in his review, said build-out from the mine “will change forever the cultural and social environment of the region. Additional development is a possibility, but it is difficult to imagine what would be the economic basis for this development. Fisheries will probably be gone, sporting activities that are attractive to wilderness lovers will be very limited due to mining damages to the landscape. Economic survival in the post-mining environment could be much more difficult than it is at present.”

Macalady said Tuesday that he hadn’t heard from the council since submitting the report. He said his son works with the council on infrastructure issues and told him the council was interested in having someone evaluate and interpret the EPA report in a more understandable way. He said he sent in his resume and was hired. He did not know if the full council signed off on his hiring.

He said he had been following the issue for several years but brought no agenda to his work. “I was very careful, I think, to state the facts as I saw them,” based on the evidence, he said.

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