The public comment period on EPA’s proposed determination for the Bristol Bay watershed closed September 19, during which time Alaskans submitted nearly 20,000 comments of support for protecting Bristol Bay, Alaska.
The Environmental Protection Agency has received a record number of public comments asking for Clean Water Act protection for Bristol Bay, according to initial estimates. During the most recent comment period which closed last Friday, nearly 20,000 Alaskans weighed in with support for the EPA’s proposed protections for the salmon-rich region of southwest Alaska, threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine.
That’s four times the number of public comments from Alaskans during a similar comment period last year, and shows that support for Bristol Bay protection is stronger than ever.
Including about 625,000 comments estimated from this year, roughly 1.5 million comments have poured in from around the country and across the political spectrum during the three-year public review process as Americans contacted EPA to say that large-scale mining is not worth the risks to Bristol Bay’s unique and thriving fishery.
“Alaskans and the rest of America have made it crystal clear that they support the EPA’s efforts to utilize the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay’s unique and valuable natural resources,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. “The science is in and the public has spoken. We hope to see the EPA finalize these protections as quickly as possible.”
Many public comments cited the failure of the Mount Polley tailings dam in British Columbia as evidence that accidents are inevitable in mines the size and scale of the proposed Pebble Mine. “Mining has an important place in Alaska, but the proposed location of this mine makes it incredibly dangerous to Bristol Bay’s healthy fishery,” said Rick Halford, former Alaska Senate President. “Pebble’s claims that they can keep the watershed safe while operating a large-scale mine are disingenuous, especially seeing the devastation in British Columbia resulting from a mine that is a fraction of the size of the proposed Pebble Mine. There is simply no safe place in Bristol Bay for this kind of mine.”
In addition to threats to the watershed, Alaskan comments focused on existing fish-based business in Bristol Bay that cannot coexist with large-scale mining. “My clients come to Bristol Bay for a remote and quiet fishing experience,” said Bud Hodson, long-time owner of Tikchik Narrows Lodge in Bristol Bay. “My business would undoubtedly be impacted by the Pebble Mine, even if nothing goes wrong. I support the EPA’s sensible restrictions that help protect salmon, and I know many other businesses in Bristol Bay agree. We need a healthy fishery to sustain businesses and jobs here.”
Over 150 Alaska sportfishing businesses have voiced their support for EPA’s proposal, along with members of Bristol Bay tribes, and thousands of local residents and commercial fishermen.
The online EPA docket currently shows an overwhelming majority of comments supporting the proposed protections for Bristol Bay. The EPA will now complete a final count and review of the comments before issuing a final Recommended Determination, which the agency says it will release no later than February 4, 2015.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. There are four chapters and thousands of members and supporters in Alaska. Follow Trout Unlimited on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at www.savebristolbay.org.