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EPA Plans Final Bristol Bay Assessment This Year

By BECKY BOHRER

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to issue a final report this year on the impacts of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region, regional director Dennis McLerran said.

McLerran spoke Tuesday to the Alaska Forum on the Environment in Anchorage. In his prepared remarks, he said the EPA plans to release a revised draft report this spring for public comment and additional peer review. The EPA said it will consider the additional input as it prepares its final report.

The agency began its study in response to concerns about a large copper-and-gold prospect near the headwaters of one of the world's premier salmon fisheries in Alaska. The EPA released a draft watershed assessment last year that found that, even without any failures, there would still be an impact on fish due to eliminated or blocked streams, removal of wetlands and a reduction in the amount and quality of fish habitat as water is used for mine operations.

The report offered no position on whether the proposed Pebble Mine project should move forward. McLerran said at the time that the assessment wasn't about a single project â¿¿ though Pebble is the highest-profile in the region â¿¿ but was instead a look at the potential impacts of mining in the Bristol Bay region. The assessment was based on a hypothetical mine scenario that the EPA said drew in part on plans and data put forth by Pebble LP, the firm behind the mine.

The draft underwent peer review, with some panelists raising concerns about things like lack of clarity in the document's objective, missing data and incomplete information. The EPA announced in November that it would address the concerns raised by the panel, first with a revised draft.

McLerran said the EPA is arranging to have the original experts review the revised assessment and evaluate whether it is responsive to their comments. The EPA plans to release the draft to the public for comment concurrently. He said he expects the additional public comment period and review will be initiated this spring, before the Bristol Bay fishing season begins.

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