Biologist who works for Pebble prospect's critics raises concerns

Posted: Monday, April 07, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A former federal fisheries biologist is raising concerns about the state's regulatory oversight of exploration at the copper and gold Pebble prospect.

Carol Ann Woody said exploratory drill rigs at the Southwest Alaska site might be drawing up amounts of water that could be harmful to developing salmon. Woody does consulting work for one of Pebble's opponents, the Anchorage-based Renewable Resources Coalition.

There is no evidence that suggests that any of Woody's fears are true, said a spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, the company exploring the deposit.

The company's drilling permit was approved after the impacts on fish-bearing streams were determined to be negligible, according to state officials.

Woody questioned whether anyone is adequately monitoring the potential impacts of the drilling on groundwater and other waters used by salmon.

The project has created controversy because of its location in the headwaters of rivers that feed Bristol Bay's large salmon fisheries.

Woody previously worked for the U.S. Geological Survey as a salmon researcher in the Bristol Bay region. She also worked on the agency's technical team assigned to review the Pebble project.

Woody outlined her critiques in a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources. She also distributed the letter to others including Gov. Sarah Palin, advocacy groups and seafood companies that operate in Bristol Bay.

State officials said they plan to respond to Woody's letter soon.

"There's no lack of desire by the state to be transparent about the details," said Tom Crafford, the DNR's large mine permit coordinator.

The companies exploring Pebble are authorized to withdraw no more than 130,000 gallons of water per day from kettle ponds and a few stream segments in the Upper Talarik Creek drainage, according to DNR staff.

State officials have been inspecting the Pebble drill sites at least once a month since last summer. The inspection reports, posted on the DNR Web site, do not contain any major permit violations.

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