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Tribes to Gov. Murkowski: EPA did not 'self-initiate' Pebble mine Bristol Bay survey

Luki Akelkok Sr.,Herman Nelson Sr.,Tom Tilden,Wassillie Andrew Sr.,Ida Apokedak

As the elected Tribal leaders from the villages of Ekwok, Koliganek, Dillingham, New Stuyahok, and Levelock who petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise their authority under the Clean Water Act, we are thankful that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy took the time to listen to the people of Bristol Bay. We take exception to former Gov. Frank Murkowski’s statement that EPA “self-initiated” the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. That is an insult to the hard work of the Tribes to research and understand the issues and submit our request to EPA.

We requested EPA take action under the Clean Water Act Section 404c, since we believe that Bristol Bay is a unique place with the largest wild Alaska salmon population in the world that deserves further protections that are offered under the Clean Water Act. The overwhelming numbers of people of Bristol Bay believe this with 99 percent  of the comments on the recent Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment from within Bristol Bay was in support of EPA action. A vast majority of comments from Alaskans outside Bristol Bay also supported action (with over 80 percent support) and over 70 percent of Americans. Without any doubt, Alaskans stand strongly behind our Tribes and the EPA on this issue.

We have been involved in attending many meetings over the Pebble project. We’ve listened to Bruce Jenkins from Northern Dynasty (50-percent owner of Pebble prospect) tell Bristol Bay folks, if the fish populations are harmed, Pebble will replace them by capture and relocation. We’ve looked over Northern Dynasty’s application to take 100 percent of the water from the South and North Fork of the Koktuli and Upper Talarik Rivers. We’ve looked over their Wardrop Report that depicts a mine plan that was given to their investors.

And we’ve watched the state of Alaska under Gov. Frank Murkowski’s leadership take the Bristol Bay Area Plan go from one of salmon protection to one of paving the way for development. Our Tribes had to sue the state of Alaska over that plan.

Our Tribes and many others across our state have no recognized relationship with the state of Alaska. We are treated as the general public even though our governments have been here for thousands of years. As elected leaders we want our members to thrive and live in our community. We want to protect existing jobs that are related to fishing, both sport and commercial, because they keep our schools open. We don’t want jobs that will cause harm to the very thing we depend on, our food that comes from the land and waters.

The Pebble project just by its size, location, and the type of the deposit will cause harm to our rivers and lands.

We thank EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for making the visit to Bristol Bay and we were encouraged by her fair, straightforward approach to this issue. We hope she will work to finalize the Watershed Assessment as soon as possible and listen to local Tribes and Alaskans and use the Clean Water Act’s section 404c to protect our fish, culture and jobs.

Luki Akelkok Sr. is chairman of Ekwok Tribal Council; Herman Nelson Sr. is chairman of Koliganek Tribal Council; Tom Tilden is chief of Curyung (Dillingham) Tribal Council; Wassillie Andrew Sr. is chairman of New Stuyahok Tribal Council; Ida Apokedak is chair of Levelock Tribal Council.

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.