Tribes in Bristol Bay are collecting signatures to push the Alaska congressional delegation to provide permanent protection for the area through federal regulation.
On their website, United Tribes of Bristol Bay say that there are two things that need to happen to protect Bristol Bay from “the threat of environmental devastation.”
Their call to action details the steps they say is needed: the EPA needs to use the Clean Water Act to again veto Pebble Mine, and Congress must act to establish the Bristol Bay National Fisheries Act to protect Bristol Bay in perpetuity.
In a presentation at the ComFish Alaska trade show in Kodiak last week, Lindsay Layland, deputy director of UTBB, appealed to fishermen and others to sign a petition urging Congress to take such action.
In a story on KMXT Public Radio in Kodiak, Layland said the mine owners are currently appealing the Army Corps of Engineers to reject the project's application.
The mine has risen from the dead several times over the last 15 years, Layland told ComFish attendees, and is still in a state of limbo.
“So back in late 2020 at the end of last year, UTBB along with other Bristol Bay partners developed and published ‘The Call to Protect Bristol Bay,’ and this is a two-part conceptual call, a conceptual ask that includes the EPA veto that we have… that the tribes in Bristol Bay region have been asking for years all the way since back since 2013. And this is the EPA 404 c action that could restrict large scale mining like the Pebble project and Bristol Bay,” Layland said.
This action would effectively stop Pebble Mine in its tracks, but that’s just one mining project in an area rich with ore.
“The second part of that is a legislative approach, basically, that Congress... would introduce a bill and pass legislation that would protect the waters of Bristol Bay forever,” Layland said.
That bill would be called the “Jay and Bella Hammond Fisheries Area Act,” named after the late governor of Alaska and his wife, who had a homestead at Lake Clark, in the heart of Bristol Bay.
For now, United Tribes of Bristol Bay is collecting signatures of fishermen and others who support their effort to kill the mine project, and fishermen enjoy a pregnant pause in the story of the Pebble Mine as they prepare for the summer salmon season.
Katherine Carscallen with Commercial Fishermen For Bristol Bay said that their group has not yet met with the congressional delegation about the bill but she said that she thought UTBB had met with Senator Lisa Murkowski shortly after the EPA denied the permit, and Murkowski had come out strongly against Pebble Mine, not just wanting to “kill Pebble,” but also wanting to create lasting protection for the area.
Carscallen said that she hasn't gotten any serious pushback from locals, saying that the idea was spawned by locals, and was a collaboration between various tribal groups in the area.
“It was written by locals,” she said, “so it was definitely the locally supported solution.”
She added that the prospect of permanently protecting the area via congressional action was a fairly new idea, but because it was locally born there hasn't been a huge advertising budget thrown behind it, but she expects that to possibly change.
UTBB can be reached at https://www.utbb.org/protecting-our-lands-and-waters, and Carscallen's group can be reached at http://fishermenforbristolbay.org/.
This article also appears in the Homer News. Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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