Kachemak Bay State Park Management Plan Comments

Bjorn Olson - Friday, October 26, 2018

STAND UP FOR KACHEMAK BAY


What’s going on? Every 20 years or so, the Kachemak Bay State Park management plan is updated with new rules about what is allowed in the park. A public review draft of a new plan was just released, and we have to make sure the park rules protect the things we value.

Comments are due by November 16. 

Send comments to: Kachemak Bay State Planning  - 

550 West 7th Ave., Suite 1050 Anchorage, AK 99501

Email: monica.alvarez@alaska.gov  

Below are the top issues identified by KBCS. To read Kachemak Bay Conservation Society’s more detailed talking points with citations and external links, please click HERE.

  1. 1. No Heli-ski operations in Kachemak Bay State Park!
  2. 2. Helicopter operators landing on Grewingk Glacier should not drop below 1500 ft until they reach the glacier, and total landings should be capped at 6 per day.
  3. 3. No hatcheries for commercial harvest in the State Park.
  4. 4. No recreational drone use in the park. Drone permits should only be issued for education, commercial use, research, and search and rescue.
  5. 5. No bear-baiting or trapping in the State Park.
  6. 6. No resource extraction for commercial purposes.
  7. 7. Water taxi operators and guides should be required to educate passengers on campfire protocol, leave-no-trace-ethics, wildlife etiquette, firearm safety.
  8. 8. No personal watercraft, airboats or hovercraft in the park.
  9. 9. Community dock development, seasonal docks, mooring buoys, and running lines should be encouraged over individual private permanent docks whenever possible. Docks that are falling apart should be removed.

  1. 10. No camping in the tsunami zone near Grewingk Glacier.
  2. 11. No camping in the tsunami zone near Grewingk Glacier. 

Please email KBCS at kbayconservation@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. 

Comments due by November 16.

Click HERE for our in-depth talking points. 
Click HERE for the Kachemak Bay State Park And Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park Management Plan Public Review Draft 
There will be a Q&A with the Park on Monday, October 29 from 6:30 pm – 8:30pm at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. 

 




Pebble Mine Is A Welfare Queen

Bjorn Olson - Thursday, April 05, 2018


The Pebble Mine is a welfare queen, unable to support itself. The Pebble Mine will gobble taxpayer handouts faster and more voraciously than tens of thousands of food stamp recipients or tens of thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries. Ambler Mine and the Donlin Gold Mine are the same. These massive open pit mines have proven that they cannot stand on their own two feet, like other sound businesses. They do not adequately take responsibility for their operation. If you believe in free markets then you must be appalled by modern metals mines, which reap massive private profit while socializing the risk.  

Alaska is seeing renewed interest in enormous, open pit metals mines. There are three very large proposals on the books; each in various states of pre-development: The Ambler Mine, Donlin Gold Mine and—back from the dead—The Pebble Mine.

Each of these proposals are in a different region of the state but they all have a handful of things in common: they are large, multi-billion dollar projects, they are all in sulfide rock, which means they will all create Acid Mine Drainage, they are each surrounded by rich, renewable subsistence and commercial wildlife resources, and they will all be, if permitted, welfare queens.

Large open pit metals mines are required to insure against environmental destruction by having bonds, which are held by the state. However, the track record shows when a mine failure occurs, these bonds are never enough. What happens when the bond isn’t big enough? You and I, the citizens and taxpayers, are forced to shoulder the burden. There is a name for this —Socialism. However, unlike like socialism, we the taxpayers underwrite the risk while the company makes off with the profit.

In Alaska, a profitable large mine pays a flat $4000, plus 7% of its "net income", which is to say they don’t pay very much. Consider the Mount Polley Mine, which is an order of magnitude smaller than Pebble, Donlin and, Ambler. When the Mount Polley Mine had a tailings dam failure, the British Columbian government was hit with a $40 Million cleanup price tag. The amount Alaska will see in tax revenue is nowhere near enough to cover such expensive and environmentally destructive cleanup operations. Alaska and Alaskans will hold the very short end of the stick if these irresponsible mines are permitted. We must radically change the way we do business with these enormous, multi-national corporations.

If you attend a meeting with a metals mine developer undoubtedly you will hear them say, “Trust us, trust our engineers, and trust the regulatory process. We know that there have been large, expensive, and environmentally destructive mine failures in the past but trust us, we won’t let that happen at Pebble, Ambler, Donlin, etc.”

Here is my point: don’t ask us to trust you. If these developers want to prove that they can honestly develop a mine that will not destroy the environment then convince a private insurer. Safeguard these mines against disaster not with insufficient bonds that are held by the state but rather with private insurance. Buy private insurance just like every other business.

State government has a dismal track record of adequately assessing risk. But, insurance companies, whose responsibility it is to protect their bottom line, are really, really good as risk assessment.

If we are going to consider developing these large metal deposits, which sit alongside valuable and renewable resources, we need to do much, much better. Insurance companies are the sort of partner large metals mines need to improve their safety, their engineering, their clout, and integrity.

You don’t have to care about wild Alaskan salmon; you don’t have to care about rural Alaskan communities who have been here for ten thousand years; you don’t have to care about clean water and air, for example, to know and understand that these mines are getting away with murder. Most Alaskans do care about our renewable resources and a healthy environment so let's come together and put the brakes on these really bad deals.

Our civilization needs and will continue to need metals. Our first goal should be to reach 100% recycling of metals and then we need to mine all the landfills. Metals have been so cheap for so long that many of us absent-mindedly throw away coppertop batteries and the like. This has to stop. We need to improve upon our rates of consumption and take responsibility for our actions. Only after we have exhausted all of these options should we then consider opening new areas to development.

When and if we do allow open pit mines to be developed next to our precious renewable resources, next to our Alaskan communities, and next to our clean water, it has to be done really, really well. Private insurers will help make sure that these developers are not cutting corners. Private insurers will make sure that these developers are not just blowing smoke up our asses, which they currently are. 


For an incomplete list of major tailings dam failures click HERE.


Make sure your voice is heard regarding The Pebble Mine.


  1. Go to http://pebbleprojecteis.com
  2. Click on “Documents” and download the Scoping Package.
If you’re interested, you can see Pebble Project’s Permit Application under “Background Documents.” It is Appendix D.
    3. Submit Comments online at  http://pebbleprojecteis.com or by mail to:

Mr. Shane McCoy 
Regulatory Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 
P.O. Box 6898
Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, AK 99506-0898.

Deadline for comments on the scope of impact is June 29 2018. This is a massive project to review in such a short time. 




Earth Day 2018

Bjorn Olson - Wednesday, April 04, 2018


Hello fellow lovers of Kachemak Bay, Alaska. 

Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and Alaskans Know Climate Change would like to invite you to our upcoming Earth Day event - Saturday April 21 - 5:00 - 8:00 PM at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

This year we are honoring the life and legacy of Edgar Bailey who, as many of you likely know, sadly passed away this year. KBCS' president Roberta Highland and Nina Faust will be sharing stories and films about Ed, his work, and his life of conservation in Homer and throughout Alaska.

I will give a short slideshow and a quick climate change in Alaska update. 

We will also be treated to live music by the Homer Youth String Orchestra. They will be performing a new composition about the Arctic and climate change. The Orchestra will be assisting KBCS' fundraising efforts this year. We have purchased 120 wine glasses and we will ask for a donation at the door so each audience member has one for the performance. During one of the pieces of music, which the student musicians are currently learning just for this occasion, the audience will be invited to participate by playing a wine glass. When the song is insinuating the Aurora, for example, the audience will be encouraged to rub their fingers along the top of the glass to make the beautiful and haunting sound. We are overjoyed that the Youth Orchestra is performing this year and I, for one, can't wait to hear this live performance. 

The presentations will begin at 6:00 PM in the Islands and Ocean auditorium but we invite you to come early—5:00PM—for free food, conversation, live music, and information tabling, which will be in the lobby. 

On Sunday (actual Earth Day) we will be hosting Kerry Williams and Ceal Smith, downstairs at the Conservation Center - 3734 Ben Walters Lane. Ceal will be giving a presentation about the Clean Energy Roadmap and Kerry will be giving a presentation about his Eklutna Lake Pumped Hydro project. If you have not already read about Kerry's proposal to transform Alaska's Rail-Belt to 100% renewable energy please read this article: http://www.alaskansknowclimatechange.com/100--renewable-alaska.html
And you can read about the Clean Energy Roadmap here, which is a roadmap for clean energy for the entire state: 

This will be your chance to meet Kerry and Ceal, ask them questions, and learn about how we can transform Alaska's economy and energy future to a more sustainable one. The kind of future which takes into account generations to come and the biosphere that supports all life. 
The time for these presentations has yet to be determined. 

We have been in overdrive over the last year. KBCS and AKCC have been engaged in many important projects and this year looks to be no different. For those that don't already know, Pebble Mine is back from the dead, climate change impacts are ravaging our state, the Kachemak Bay State Park and Critical Habitat management plans are being re-drafted, and the list of issues we are trying to keep on top of goes on and on. To keep apprised of some of our efforts please visit our blog: 
Or visit our climate change website:

If you are unable to attend and would still like to support Kachemak Bay Conservation Society or our climate change education campaign please consider becoming a member, renewing your membership, or make a donation. http://www.kbayconservation.org/membershipdonations.html
We have also ordered new Alaskans Know Climate Change tote bags. This time the organic cotton bags are black with a white logo. They are free for people wishing to become KBCS members or $20 without membership.

Find us and our event on Facebook.

Hope to see you all there. 

-Bjørn Olson 
KBCS board member and Alaskans Know Climate Change director of education and advocacy.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 
― Margaret Mead

The Future, The Past, and Whale Oil - Short Film

Bjorn Olson - Friday, March 30, 2018


Alaska Senator Tom Begich gave an incredible speech on the floor of the Alaska Senate titled, The Future, The Past, and Whale Oil.

I [Bjørn] felt inspired to use his audio and make, what I hope is, a visually compelling, short film, with the intention of drawing more people to the Senator's profound speech. 

Click HERE or on the image to watch the video. 

And, click HERE for a proposal to transform Alaska to 100% renewable energy. 




Bear Cove Oyster Expansion - Comment

Bjorn Olson - Friday, March 30, 2018



Department of Natural Resources

Southcentral Region Office

ATTN: Karen Cougan

550 West 7th Avenue Suite 900C

Anchorage, AK 99501

karen.cougan@alaska.gov 

Re: Preliminary Decision for Lease Amendment ADL 227591

Dear Ms. Cougan,

The spirit and content of the Preliminary Decision for Lease Amendment ADL 227591 convey grave lack of consideration for the public interest and the wild resources we in the Homer Area depend on in Kachemak Bay. Aquaculture operations must be shown on a case-by-case basis not to threaten wild populations, habitats, and public recreation if they are to be consistent with the public interest. While the both the Kenai Area Management Plan and the Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats Critical Habitat Areas Management Plan (Management Plan) require that fish, wildlife, habitat and public use be protected, DNR has conducted no analysis of the impact of the significant expansion of Early Tide Seafarms, LLC on these fronts. This in an unacceptable act of negligence to DNR’s core responsibility to the public. There are a number of areas of major concern that must be addressed in the Final Decision, and we believe, if addressed, would bar the requested expansion in Bear Cove. 

(1) While the Management Plan states that “the effects of existing farms [in Kachemak Bay] will be utilized to determine, in part, decisions to permit, deny, or modify new aquatic farm proposals....”, the Preliminary Decision does not cite any data on impacts of current oyster farms in Kachemak Bay to fish, wildlife and public use and enjoyment of the critical habitat area. That may be because little research has been conducted. If so, no permit for expansion can be granted under these guidelines.  

(2) Furthermore, while there may be little information on impacts of farms in Kachemak Bay, there has been research on oyster farms in other places: one of the greatest potential impacts is the net loss of energy, in the form of phytoplankton, from the ecosystem. Bivalve species have been shown to filter 4 - 14.5 gallons of seawater per day day. Filtration removes phytoplankton and detritus from the water, and this process is referred to as “top-down” population control, because competition for phytoplankton and detritus harm wild species who depend on the same resources.  For example, a study in the Bay of Bourgneuf showed that as the stock of oysters increased from 37,821 to 46,343 tonnes from 1986-88, the wild population of mussels dropped from 40,068 to 6,700 tonnes in the same period. 

Early Tide Seafarms, LLC’s proposes to increase the number of oysters from 42,000 to 320,000 by 2020. Oyster farm production in all of Kachemak Bay was under 200,000 in 2010, so this is a major proposal for a small bay and shows how quickly development is being permitted here despite the lack of information on impacts in the bay. If each animal filters between 4 - 14.5 gallons daily, the proposal is that by 2020, Early Tide Seafarms, LLC will be filtering between 1,280,000  and 4,640,000 gallons of water every day, stripping out phytoplankton and detritus. In our cold climate, that phytoplankton is gold, and many depend on it, from shellfish to salmon to mammals, on up to the people who depend on those species, be they fishermen, guides, or players up and down our “wild” industry, from hotel owners to taxicab drivers. If we give the phytoplankton to the oysters, we take it from the other species, and we all loose. A large-scale operation in Bear Cove must be analyzed to assure that over-stocking is not occurring. Over-stocking of oysters “can seriously affect phytoplankton availability for other aquatic animals and plants” and has the potential to “exceed the carrying capacity of a whole bay, whereby total productivity of a bay is reduced to the point where its ecological balance is disrupted.”  The stakes here are very high, yet no analysis of the carrying capacity of Bear Cove has been attempted. No permit for expansion can be issued in this context. There is surely room for some some scale of aquaculture in Bear Cove and in Kachemak Bay. But if DNR grants lease permits without determining what the ecosystem can support, DNR will be responsible for any ecosystem crash in our common wilderness and financial damages to a very significant number of stakeholders at the end of the road.

(3) The decline of native bivalve species (scallops, mussels, razor clams etc.) and other shellfish including crab and shrimp in Kachemak Bay was abrupt and is not well understood. According to the  Kachemak Bay Research Reserve Oyster Population Resiliency Situation Assessment Report by NOAA and ADF&G, “the rates of decline are alarming and are considerable cause of concern.” Given that oyster farms remove phytoplankton and detritus, which these same threatened wild species depend on, oyster farming runs directly counter to their rehabilitation. The value of these wild resources to the state is significantly higher than the expected value of oyster farms; furthermore, according to the Management Plan, DNR’s first legal obligation is to protect and promote these species in the critical habitat area.  The implications are clear: until these wild populations have been rehabilitated, no expansion of farms or further permits can be permitted.

(4) Furthermore, according to the Kenai Area Plan, “the tidelands around Bear Cove support Pacific herring spawning and a harbor seal haulout.” It is well known that harbor seals are highly sensitive to disturbances, and human activity during pup rearing can lead to abandonment of pups and mortality. NOAA describes the problem as follows, 

“females will flee to the water if disturbed or approached and may leave their pups behind... A female seal is more likely to return to reclaim her pup once the disturbance near the pup goes away. If activity continues near the pup, the female may eventually give up trying and the pup will be abandoned. A nursing pup that is separated from its mother will not survive.” 

It is reasonable to assume that a fourfold increase in activity in Bear Cove will harm the harbor seal population. While information on increases to personnel, boat motors, generators, etc. is absent in the Proposed Determination (they must be included), it is possible that current operations are tantamount harassment this vulnerable population of mammals; it is highly likely that expansion of this scale would constitute harassment. 

(5) Also, the Kenai Area Plan classifies Bear Cove as a pacific herring spawning site. It is necessary in herring spawning sites to maintain the health of seagrasses, as that is where they lay their eggs. However, shading from oyster farming has beens shown to significantly harm seagrass growth. We cannot trade herring for oysters. It is not in the public interest and it is not consistent with the mandates of the Management Plan to “maintain and enhance fish and wildlife populations and their habitat.”

(6) The Management Plan allows for aquatic farming only when “consistent with...public use and enjoyment of the critical habitat areas...” This one farm would represent more than a 50% increase in total operations in Kachemak Bay, and will include 24 lines and increase buoys in Bear Cove from 120 to 528. When considering public use and enjoyment of Kachemak Bay, we must assess development projects on an individual basis as well as the cumulative effect of development: the Management Plan requires managers to “recognize cumulative impacts when considering effects of small incremental developments and action affecting critical habitat area recources.” We now have over 14 aquaculture permit holders in Kachemak Bay, with many of our small bays and coves supporting farms, and the place feels less wild as a result. This has a strong impact on public use and enjoyment. Research commissioned by the Alaska Travel Industry Association concludes that the feeling that Alaska is “wild” and “unspoiled” is a primary draw for visitors to our state. When many of our residents depend on income from those visitors who are looking for an “unspoiled” Kachemak Bay, unchecked aquaculture expansion is almost certainly a considerable net loss to one of our bedrock industries. In any case, DNR owes the public an analysis along these lines. 

To summarize the long list of reasons not to expand aquaculture operations in in Bear Cove: (1) The Management Plan requires that effects of existing farms in Kachemak Bay be used to determine future permitting. This has not been done and may not be possible to do, so no expansion can be permitted. (2) It is reckless to permit the filtering of 1,280,000 to 4,640,000 gallons of water every day in Bear Cove; the impacts of this scale of phytoplankton and detritus removal may well threaten to disrupt the ecological balance of the entire cove and all the seabirds, fish, and marine mammals who feed, rear and live there. Continued permitting in this manner presents a serious threat all of Kachemak Bay. (3) Aquaculture development of this scale runs counter to the rehabilitation of native scallops, mussels, razor clams, crab and shrimp. (4) This development will harass harbor seals, promoting pup mortality. (5) This development unreasonably threatens herring spawning. (6) The cumulative impact of increased aquaculture throughout Kachemak Bay undermines the tourism industry that depends on the maintenance of a “wild” and “unspoiled” bay. Any one of these reasons is cause enough to deny the lease amendment. 

Sincerely, 

Roberta Highland

President, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society  


Waste Management Permit for Donlin Gold, LLC

Bjorn Olson - Thursday, March 29, 2018



Tim Pilon, PE

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

Division of Water - Wastewater Discharge Authorization Program

610 University Avenue

Fairbanks, AK 99709-3643

E:  Tim.Pilon@alaska.gov

Re:  Waste Management Permit for Donlin Gold, LLC – Draft 2017DB0001

Dear Mr. Pilon,

Kachemak Bay Conservation Society has signed comments submitted by Earthjustice detailing a number of crucial issues that must be addressed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regarding this draft permit. We submit an additional comment here to emphasize core failings of the draft permit. We ask DEC to acknowledge and account for the basic and unfortunate facts about heavy metals; it is clear that the excavation of massive amounts of heavy metals to be contained by a tailings damn  is inconsistent with the Clean Water Act’s antidegredation requirements. 

First, a sketch of the location for the proposed site. Crooked Creek feeds into the Kuskokwim and is about fifty miles upstream of the Yukon Delta National Park. The waters are known to be inhabited by all five species of salmon, which are a basis for subsistence for residents. The ecosystem threatened by the mine supports black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, grey wolves, red fox, lynx, martens, mink, least weasels, snowshoe hares, tundra hares, wolverines, beavers, muskrats, lemmings, voles, squirrels, hoary marmots, porcupine, moose, caribou...and more.  The current use of these waters is the support of this ecosystem; which in turn is used to support both subsistence and sport hunting and fishing. 

According to the Fact Sheet, Donlin Gold LCC proposes to construct tailings storage that would encompass an area of 2,351 acres, with a total capacity of approximately 334,300 acre-feet for tailings, reclaim water, and flood events. Total waste rock material is estimated to be 2,900 million metric tonnes. In short, they proposes to expose enough heavy metals to severely damage the ecosystem surrounding Crooked Creek.  

It is well known that that the tailings of gold mines are characterized by toxic concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co) and mercury (Hg). We will not detail the scope of destruction perpetrated by excessive amounts of these heavy metals to nearly every form of life, down to the life of the very soil itself. We assume that DEC is familiar with these well-established effects. We wish simply to remind the department of what they already know: that heavy metals never degrade, once unearthed, they present a threat to nearly all forms of life for all time, and that they are dispersed long distances by air and water in waterways and underground in watersheds. 

We remind DEC of these facts because they are not accounted for in the draft permit. For example, a cost-estimate of the maintenance of the tailings dams for perpetuity needed. Donlin Gold LCC must be held responsible for the cost, and they must be prepared to be bonded for it. The notion that that Donlin Gold LCC or any other applicant, could pretend to take responsibility for protecting the area around Crooked Creek from the heavy metals for all time may sound absurd; however, these metals have no time limit, and so those are the conditions. Once excavated, is a statistical inevitability that they will leach into the surrounding environment, disrupting the biochemical balance that supports life. No permit that ignores these fundamentals of gold mining and heavy metal toxicity can be issued. 

The Clean Water Act’s antidegredeation requirements only permit degradation of water quality if the state of Alaska “shall assure water quality adequate to protect existing uses fully.”  Given the toxcicity of heavy metals, given the amount of heavy metals proposed to be unearthed, given that they do not degrade, no such assurance can be made by the DEC.  If by “uses” we understand current subsistence fishing and hunting practices, no such full assurance can be made by the DEC.  The Clean Water Act’s antidegredation requirements have no time limit: 40 CFR § 131.12 (a) (1) does not state that it is legal to degrade water in the future. It is a statistical inevitability that these metals will degrade the water quality, and it is a distinct possibility that existing uses of the water will be altered. For these reasons this permit cannot be granted.  

Thank you very much for your careful consideration.

Sincerely,

Roberta Highland

President, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society


Aquaculture Facilities in Alaska General Permit

Bjorn Olson - Thursday, March 29, 2018


Angela Hunt 

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation 

Division of Water 

Wastewater Discharge Authorization Program

555 Cordova Street 

Anchorage, AK 99501 

Regarding: Aquaculture Facilities in Alaska General Permit, Permit No. AKG130000 

Dear Ms. Hunt:

Kachemak Bay Conservation Society (KBCS) is a thirty-five year old nonprofit based in Homer, Alaska. Our mission is to protect the environment of the Kachemak Bay region and greater Alaska by encouraging sustainable use and stewardship of natural resources through advocacy, education, information, and collaboration. Permitting for aquaculture facilities is of utmost importance to our constituents and the public. Here in Kachemak Bay, there is a hatchery in Tutka Bay that citizen science has shown to lower dissolved oxygen levels; it issues discharge that leave sludge floating on the water surface; this past October it became public that the septic system broke and released septic into Tutka Bay; this past summer thousands and thousands of hatchery fish did not get caught and died all around Tutka. We are left to imagine how many hatchery fish go up other wild streams to denigrate wild genetic stocks. We are left to imagine what the dissolved oxygen (DO) levels are around Tutka Bay might be; we are left to imagine the impact of this sludge, lowered DO, and other unknown discharges such as chlorine. We are left to imagine the impact of the uptick in nitrogen from the decomposing fish. What is happening on the sea floor? What is happening to the food web that keeps all of Tutka Bay alive? What is happening to wild fish? We want this and other hatcheries around the state to be transparent and accountable to federal and state law. This permit is our chance to do this.  

We write with mixed feelings toward the draft of the general permit for aquaculture facilities in Alaska. A five-year permit for the entire state for an industry releasing between 1.4 and 1.7 billion juveniles per year is a big permit and deserves careful consideration. The issue of hatcheries in Alaska is highly controversial because so many salmon are released around the state, and there has been shockingly little research on their effect on wild stocks via competition and straying, as well as to the broader ecosystems where they feed and to which they return and where they rot. We are glad to see that monitoring of the facilities will be mandated, that some consideration is shown for the damage caused by chlorine, ammonia, lack of dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids, settleable solids, nitrogen, phosphorus and polychrolinated biphenlys. As noted in your Fact Sheet draft, these substances all cause mortality. Our concerns with the permit however are grave. In short, the standards for clean operation are far too vague, and the standards for monitoring are far too low. In both cases, there seems to be backsliding vis a vie  the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater General Permit, Permit No. 9640-DB005. We begin with a general exposition of these problems, and go on to address specific language in the draft.  

First, the wide variance between sites where aquaculture facilitates operate render a general permit unacceptable. There are simply too many differences between facilities and the locations where they operate. Here in Homer, there is a clear example of this: we have a hatchery in Katchemak Bay State Park; it also lies within the boundaries of Katchemak Bay and Fox River Flats Critical Habitat. Surely the rules that apply to this facility cannot apply to other facilities and visa versa. This is just one example of the need for individualized permits.

Second, the complete absence of numeric standards in this permit borders on the absurd. In many instances a simple numeric value is the most logical guideline. Even absent numbers, a greater degree of specificity and clarity could be easily achieved. Guidelines must be firmed up if this permit is to be more than a formality. What is “proper”? What is “reasonable”? These questions come up over and over as one reads the draft. It is easy to imagine aquaculture facilities bending the words of the general permit to comply with its letter but not its spirit. Furthermore, there seems to be a strong case that some of the standards in this new permit qualify as backsliding. Obviously something DEC should be concerned about. In a number of instances, a numeric value must be maintained to comply with anti-backsliding law. Given the nature and volume of the discharges subject to this permit, given the richness of the environments where dumping occurs, Tutka Bay, Esther Island, Baranof Island...the state of Alaska has much to lose. Hatcheries don’t need a free pass. Hatcheries need to be transparent about how they operate, and we Alaskans need to know what their impact is. Even if industry may oppose transparency and data-collection, we maintain that it is in their interest. Degraded waters will catch up with them. Presumably they wish to continue operations for many years to come. 

Third, according to this permit and fact sheet, DEC knows very little about the quality of water being discharged and in receiving bodies. Why is that the case? It is gravely problematic that in a number of instances, it is stated that baselines will be gathered during this permit cycle, for example, you state:

Because this is the first issuance of the general permit, DEC does not have historical monitoring data from hatcheries needed to conduct a RPA [reasonable potential analysis]. The general permit requires hatcheries to monitor for several water quality parameters (TSS, SS, pH, ammonia, DO, and chlorine) to generate data for use in conducting a RPA during the next permit cycle. 

In another instance, the Fact Sheet states that a Tier 2 analysis on receiving waters is being conducted. Where is this being conducted? At each facility? What are the results? Why is this only being conducted now? How can a five-year state-wide permit be issued without completion of analysis? We need a good answer. KBCS demands, at the very least, that DEC bar the permitting on expansion of any aquaculture facility in the state of Alaska until the basic information on influent, effluent and receiving waters has been firmly established. To do otherwise runs counter to the mandate of antidegradation. No expansion of facilities can be granted until there is sufficient data for an RPA. Any thinking person would see that it is logical that no permit for operations can be granted at all until an RPA is created, and that no RPA can be granted until sufficient data has been collected. This is no small matter. It is outrageous and bizarre that DEC has determined that recieving waters may be “assumed to have water quality that exceeds Alaska’s WQS,” and then to go on to state that “the localized lowering of water quality is necessary” all without knowing the local or general water quality. This is not acceptable for a state agency. 

Fourth, aquaculture facilities have been allowed to operate for several decades without the most basic state-mandated monitoring and reporting systems in place. Antidegradation policy must start now. We need as much data as we can get as soon as possible. It appears that the DEC is willing to wait 5 years before establishing baselines, and in the meantime will allow aquaculture operations to continue unchanged. KBCS demands far more expedient and wide-ranging data collection. DEC’s permit must require the collection more data more quickly on both influent, effluent, receiving bodies, and of the seafloor and the benthic conditions there. Monitoring must be conducted on the variables outlined in the permit. In addition, monitoring must be conducted on what the Clean Water Act, section 117 calls the living resources of the site: “grasses, benthos, phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, and shellfish.” When these living recourses are degraded, the entire system suffers and often never recovers.  In all cases, samples and/or photographs and GPS points are necessary. Any evidence gathered by the facilities must be checked: unannounced state visits for monitoring operations are necessary at the very least.

Lastly, we believe that this permit is fundamentally flawed in its disregard for the EPA’s Ocean Discharge Criteria. For an example of a permit that considers these criteria, we consider DEC permit Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation of Alaska Ship and Drydock, LCC., Permit Number: AK0045675. This permit is valid for a drydock along the Tongass Narrows waterfront and midway across Tongass Narrows in Ketchikan. Any standard that applies to these locations would apply to aquaculture facilities. The present permit for aquaculture facilities must adopt the format of this drydock permit, in consideration of the Ocean Discharge Criteria. I quote at length from the Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation of Alaska Ship and Drydock, LCC. permit:

EPA’s Ocean Discharge Criteria, 40 CFR Part 125, Subpart M, set forth specific determinations of unreasonable degradation that must be made prior to permit issuance. “Unreasonable degradation of the marine environment” is defined in 40 CFR 125.121(e) as follows [emphasis added]:

1. Significant adverse changes in ecosystem diversity, productivity and stability of the biological community within the area of discharge and surrounding biological communities, 

2. Threat to human health through direct exposure to pollutants or through consumption of exposed aquatic organisms, or 

3. Loss of esthetic, recreational, scientific or economic values which is unreasonable in relation to the benefit derived from the discharge. 

This determination is to be made on the basis of considering the following 10 criteria (40 CFR 125.122): 

1. The quantities, composition and potential for bioaccumulation or persistence of the pollutants to be discharged; 

2. The potential transport of such pollutants by biological, physical or chemical processes; 

3. The composition and vulnerability of the biological communities, which may be exposed to such pollutants, including the presence of unique species or communities of species, the presence of species identified as threatened pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), or the presence of those species critical to the structure or function of the ecosystem, such as those important for the food chain; 

4. The importance of the receiving water area to the surrounding biological community, including the presence of spawning sites, nursery/forage areas, migratory pathways, or areas necessary for other functions or critical stages in the life cycle of an organism; 

5. The existence of special aquatic sites including, but not limited to marine sanctuaries and refuges, parks, national and historic monuments, national seashores, wilderness areas and coral reefs; 

6. The potential impacts on human health through direct and indirect pathways; 

7. Existing or potential recreational and commercial fishing, including finfishing and shellfishing; 

8. Any applicable requirements of an approved Coastal Zone Management Plan; 

9. Such other factors relating to the effects of the discharge as may be appropriate; and 

10. Marine water quality criteria developed pursuant to Section 304(a)(1). 

The aquaculture permit draft appears to violate the EPA’s Ocean Discharge Criteria. No permit can be issued without consideration of the above. No consideration of the above has been shown. The only way to consider the above is to gather data and analyze it. This must be rectified.  

The Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation of Alaska Ship and Drydock, LCC. permit, states, for example under Critirion 3 the need for the protection of “those species critical to the structure or function of the ecosystem, such as those important for the food chain.” The same is true for aquaculture facilities.  The Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation of Alaska Ship and Drydock, LCC permit also states, under Criterion 2, the current speeds near the surface and near the bottom. This same information is needed before issuing the aquaculture permit.  Criterion 4 in the Ocean Discharge Criteria Evaluation of Alaska Ship and Drydock, LCC permit recognizes “The importance of the receiving water area to the surrounding biological community, including the presence of spawning sites, nursery/forage areas, migratory pathways, or areas necessary for other functions or critical stages in the life cycle of an organism.” The same is true for hatcheries, which are often located near wild salmon streams. There is highly worrisome evidence to suggest that these hatcheries are damaging wild salmon streams through significant straying rates. Criterion 5 is also relevant in this case: “The existence of special aquatic sites including, but not limited to, marine sanctuaries and refuges, parks, national and historic monuments, national seashores, wilderness areas and coral reefs.” 

Comments on specific language in the Permit: 

2.1.1.1 Employ efficient feed management and feeding strategies that limit feed input to the minimum amount reasonably necessary to achieve production goals and sustain targeted rates of aquatic animal growth in order to minimize potential discharges of uneaten feed and waste products to waters of the U.S.

The State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater General Permit, Permit No. 9640-DB005 sets a numeric limit on total suspended solids and settleable solids. The absence of a numeric limit in this permit is a case of backsliding. It must be stated more specifically what qualifies as “minimum discharge”: Samples must be collected and analyzed for parts per million for settleable solids and suspended solids for both effluent discharge and receiving waters. The same comment applies for wherever this language on feed management and feeding strategies occurs, e.g. 2.2.1.1 and 2.3.1.

2.2.1 Solids Control - Permittees must minimize the discharge of solids to waters of the U.S. by implementing the following measures...

Again, the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater General Permit, Permit No. 9640-DB005 sets a numeric limit on total suspended solids and settleable solids. The absence of a numeric limit in this permit is a case of backsliding. The same applies for all facilities, including net pens. 

2.1.3 Managing Spills - Permittees must implement procedures for properly containing, cleaning, and disposing of any spilled material

The language on spills everywhere it occurs must be much more specific. “Proper containment, cleaning, and disposing spilled material” is required pursuant to what standard? Within what timeframe? Here, as elsewhere the absence of a baseline for water quality and is a glaring problem. EPA’s Ocean Discharge Criteria  requires the evaluation and protection of ecosystem diversity, productivity and stability of the biological community within the area of discharge and surrounding biological communities.”  This standard must be met. Data is needed to evaluate spills. “Clean” must be established before the facility can say that the waters are “clean.” We Alaskans don’t want to hear, “Oh, there must have always been ammonia in these waters...” Requirements must be set for clean up procedures and standards. The term “reporting” should also be included: “properly reporting, containing, cleaning...”. Additionally, the facility must be tasked with an analysis of why a spill occurred and demonstrate that measures have been taken to prevent reoccurrence.  The same applies for all facilities, including net pens.

2.1.5 Recordkeeping - Permittees must keep records at the facility documenting the following:

Every step taken in to meet the standards of this permit must be documented. Eery violation of standards set in this permit must be documented. Remedies must be documented. The same must apply for all facilities, including net pens (currently smaller facilities are exempt from recordkeeping).

2.2 Flow Through and Recirculating Facilities Producing 20,000 to 100,000 Pounds Total Annual Release Weight from the Facility

The same standards for structural maintenance, recordkeeping, and training used for larger facilities must apply.

2.3.6.3 prevent concentrated bottom settling

What does concentrated bottom settling look like? How can it be documented and monitored? How long should it take to clear out? Within what area should bottom settling be monitored? Samples of the seafloor must be collected weekly. The same applies wherever bottom settling is mentioned.

2.3.9.1 Each new net pen facility must be situated in a location with adequate current velocity relative to depth from the bottom of the net pens to the sea floor to avoid degradation of water quality and benthic conditions below the nets.

One might say that if you can’t see accumulation below the net pen, everything is A-OK. That seems to be the assumption here. How much current is enough current? We need a number. How do we know it is enough current? We need data on the benthos and broader food web, as mandated by EPA’s Ocean Discharge Criteria. Given that hatcheries have not been charged with established baselines for benthic conditions and water quality, they have already gotten a free pass. It would appear that past permits have violated the law on many counts. Any degradation that may have occurred in all the decades of operation has not been documented. How can hatcheries “avoid degradation of water quality and benthic conditions” if they do not monitor those conditions? Benthic conditions must be monitored. State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater General Permit, Permit No. 9640-DB005 requires flow metering. The lack of a numeric metering in this permit is a case of backsliding. The same applies wherever current velocity or flow is mentioned.

3.2 Flow Through and Recirculating Facilities

Sample frequency should be increased: more data points in a shorter time will help track fluctuations under different conditions, and will help monitors spot problems more quickly. There is no reason not to monitor weekly or daily. State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater General Permit, Permit No. 9640-DB005 requires flow metering and sets numeric limits on total suspended solids, settable solids, pH, residual chlorine, and dissolved oxygen. The lack of a numeric metering and limits in this permit is a case of backsliding. 

3.2.1 Receiving Water Monitoring - Permittees must monitor the receiving waterbody once per calendar year as specified in Table 3.

These standards are far too low. Why are they so low? Receiving water monitoring must include total suspended solids, settable solids, pH, salinity, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, and total residual chlorine. EPA’s Ocean Discharge Criteria sets the bar. Samples must be collected weekly so conditions can be understood as quickly as possible. Unannounced visits must be put in place to help keep everybody honest. 

Receiving water monitoring must occur on chlorine, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids, settleable solids, nitrogen, phosphorus at least monthly and in multiple, strategic sites chosen by DEC around the facility so that flow and settling can be better understood and broader effects on “ecosystem diversity, productivity and stability of the biological community within the area of discharge and surrounding biological communities” can be understood and monitored. Parameters for the location of testing must be established by the DEC at varying depths, a specified number and distance between, testing sites. We cannot assume that sufficient water flow is occurring to diffuse discharge (as this permit seems to do). The effects on receiving waters and the ecosystems they harbor must be shown through monitoring.

This is not undue burden. Even the smaller of these facilities are operating at scales that warrant monitoring. Furthermore, the absence of  baselines needs to be remedied if we are even to pretend to care about antidegradation. We must monitor to a high degree particularly at the outset of this permit to establish antidegradation standards. 

Numeric limits must be set on all measures monitored. Corrective action must be taken immediately if limits are exceeded. All must be recorded. 

3.2.2 Disinfection Water

Antibacksliding law prohibits backsliding on the limits set on chlorine established in the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater General Permit.

3.3.2 Within 15 days prior to release of the aquatic animals each season, permittees must visually assess the benthos for the following and keep records documenting the results:

3.3.2.1 Sediment type and color, including an assessment for anoxic sediments;

3.3.2.2 The presence of feed or other debris originating from the net pen enhancement facility; and

3.3.2.3 The presence of benthic bacterial or fungal mats. Provide an estimate of the percent coverage of these mats beneath the net pen and within 150 feet of its perimeter.

3.3.3 At least once per week during the period when the aquatic animals occupy the net, visually assess the water column around the nets for floating debris or other sign of solids, sheens, or discoloration originating from the net pens and keep records documenting the results.

In all of the above categories, samples, photographs or some visual or physical documentation must be required. Numeric limits must be set. Corrective action must be required, and documented to counter sheens, discoloration, presence of benthic bacterial of fungal mats. 

4.3 Ground Carcass Disposal

Limits on parts per million total suspended solids in receiving waters must be included here.

4.3.7.1 Site-specific information about receiving water bathymetry, current or flows, and the historic effects of past discharges on water quality.

Numeric limits must be set on flow. Antibacksliding law demands this. The requirement of giving information on “historic effects of past discharges on water quality” must specify the variables to be tracked: chlorine, ammonia, dissolved oxygen, total suspended solids, settleable solids, nitrogen, phosphorus must be addressed.   

6.1.1.1 Purchasing procedures that give preference for food that contains the lowest amount of PCBs that is economically and practically feasible

Mandated stepwise reduction of PCBs with numeric targets is the only way to achieve the desired outcome. Increasing cost recovery must be considered in the assessment of economic feasibility. PCBs are illegal for a reason. The DEC must protect US waters from PCBs. 

We believe our comments to be conservative, rational and common-sense. Most importantly, we simply ask that state and federal law be upheld by the DEC. Our comments reflect a value for all that is wild in the state of Alaska, a value shared by a great majority of our citizens. If we kill our waters, they will not come back. Aquaculture facilities will suffer at least as much as the rest of us. They benefit from regulation. If finances are the least concern, cost recovery may simply be increased. We owe it to our kids and grandkids, your kids and grandkids, who may want to go fish for wild salmon, or go tide-pooling. 

Sincerely,

Roberta Highland

President, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society




Scoping of Proposed Alaska Industrial and Development Export (AIDEA) Ambler Road Project

Bjorn Olson - Thursday, March 29, 2018



Bureau of Land Management

222 West 7th Avenue

Anchorage, Alaska 99513

RE: Scoping of Proposed Alaska Industrial and Development Export (AIDEA) Ambler Road Project 

To Whom It May Concern:

Kachemak Bay Conservation Society (KBCS) is a thirty-five year old nonprofit based in Homer, Alaska. Our mission is to protect the environment of the Kachemak Bay region and greater Alaska by encouraging sustainable use and stewardship of natural resources through advocacy, education, information, and collaboration.

Though Homer is more than 500 miles from the proposed project, we and our constituents on the Kenai Peninsula are deeply concerned by the prospect of the construction of a 211 mile road to access the Ambler Mining District. As Alaskans and stewards of our natural resources we urge the Bureau of Land Management to address following issues with regard to the scope of the environmental impact statement: 1) The impact of road itself on the water quality and the numerous species who live and travel though the region; 2) the issues that arise because the road’s permitting is separate from the permitting of the mining operations––the road is of a piece with the mine  and their impact must be considered together 3) the absence of any substantive cost-benefit analysis on this fantastically expensive and invasive project.

1) As you know, this road will cross 2,900 streams, 11 major rivers, and 1,700 acres of wetlands. These waters are home to whitefish, sheefish, salmon, pike, burbot, grayling, and more. A project of this scale will have serious, negative impacts to water and fish. A large 2006 study found that more than 60% of large U.S. mines failed to meet downstream water requirements. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) needs detailed information about baselines for all the species who live in the region, baselines for water quality in streams and other groundwater. After a strong establishment of baselines, precautions to maintain the health of the ecosystem must be taken seriously. Furthermore, BLM must ask what will happen after the expected 50 years of private use? Under Section 810 of ANILCA, BLM must determine whether the project “may significantly restrict subsistence uses:”  After the 50 years of expected private mining use, hunters, fisherman, foresters, etc. will use this road just like they do the Dalton Highway. Permitters cannot ignore this inevitability when creating an EIS for the road and must address it. 

2) The road proposed is explicitly to access Ambler Mining District. When creating an EIS of the road, BLM must address that the most significant environmental impact of the road will be increased mining in Ambler District. If permitted, the primary impact of the road will be the impact of the mines in Ambler District. An EIS of the road must trigger an EIS of the mining operations. There is no no other way to do an EIS of the road. This is serious and very important. 

3) We must ask are there reasonable alternatives to the road and mine: AIDEA is interested in developing the Ambler Road as part of its mission to “...increase job opportunities and otherwise encourage the economic growth of the state, including the development of its natural resources...,” that is to mine. Alternatives BIA must consider are not different road routes, but different projects other than mining in Ambler and a state-funded 211 mile road through precious wilderness. BLM must seek alternative investments that have a lower impact on the environment and subsistence, and will provide more good jobs into the future. 

According to the BLM Fact Sheet, the road is projected to cost $350 million; and then $10 million expected annual maintenance costs. Past remote projects show a strong trend of costing significantly more than estimates. We must probe how realistic this estimate is. Does AIDEA think that sufficient jobs and revenue will be created to justify this expenditure? What evidence do they have to support this belief? Further, we must ask if we could make a better investment. As far as an EIS goes, “better” means lower impact. How good is a mine that will operate for 50 years and leave toxic waste for perpetuity? What are the alternatives? Would alternatives do less harm to groundwater and wild populations in this unique place? AIDEA has provided no such analysis. Such an analysis is sorely needed. KBCS believes that there are stronger alternatives to developing the Ambler Mining District: development of solar energy industry, wind energy industry, hydro power. A cost-benefit analysis of similar levels of investment in alternative energy industry is needed.

Alaskans need long-term job creation and long-term economic growth; we need to protect our wild places so our great grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same bounty and beauty we do. When looking for reasonable alternatives to the Ambler Access Road, we must consider development of the alternative energy industry.

We thank you for your careful consideration. The issues raised here are of the greatest importance to the future of Alaskan economic development and the stewardship of the wild places we all love.

Sincerely, 

Roberta Highland 

President Kachemak Bay Conservation Society


Mavis Muller: Art In Defense Of The Planet

Bjorn Olson - Saturday, March 10, 2018

Permaculture dot Org has released an article about Homer resident and global eco-warrior Mavis Muller. Kachemak Bay Conservation Society is re-publishing the piece with permission. 









Public Comment Writing Tips

Bjorn Olson - Friday, March 09, 2018

COMMENT WRITING TIPS



There are different kinds of comments. 

You can write to your state and federal representatives in support or favor of laws: these comments don’t need to get into the nitty gritty to have an impact. Overwhelming numbers in opposition to a project can sway a rep.

You can write to permitting agencies who give the go-ahead on development projects, like docks, hatcheries, mines, pipelines, etc. These guidelines focus on these kinds of comments. Effective comments at this level generally involve some research:

What kind of permit is being considered?

What are the laws governing this permit?

What is the nitty gritty of the proposed project and what will it’s impacts be?

Who reads comments? 

  • Permitting agencies
  • CC your representatives 

• Send them to newspapers

• Post on Facebook

  • Can use them to give testimony at public hearing.

Why do comments matter?

  • Permitting agencies are required to respond to substantive comments.
  • Comments can change permits.

• Agencies are afraid of lawsuits. 

• Be able to talk with friends, strangers and politicians about the issues you care about.

Kinds of Permits: 

Typical Sate Permits:

• Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issues these permits: Plan of Operations, Reclamation and Bonding, Monitoring Plan (Surface/Groundwater/Wildlife), Tidelands Leases

• Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issues these:  Waste Management Permits and Bonding, Contingency Plans

• Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) issues Fish Habitat and Fishway Permits 

Typical Federal Permits: 

 

• US EPA Section 402 National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System Permit (NPDES)

• US ACOE Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit

• NMFS Marine Mammal Protection Act

  • USFWS Migratory Bird Protection
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for federal action determined to significantly affect the quality of the human environment. It’s got two steps where you can comment: 

1) Scoping

2) Draft EIS

For large projects, there are often a number of agencies and permits. There will be a coordinating agency, eg. for large-scale mining in Alaska, DNR is the lead state agency. For the Feds it is often the Army Corps.

GETTING STARTED:

Stay in the loop:

Join whatsup@npgroups.org weekly updates from Trustees for Alaska, The Alaska Center and Alaska Women’s Environmental Network.

Join KBCS’s list to receive copies of our comments before the deadline. Our comments may help you write your own.  Email Penelope at pah02003@mymail.pomona.edu if you want to be on that email list.

Read the draft permit or proposal closely: 

  • What exactly are they proposing? 
  • What laws must the permitters follow: they should be cited in the text of the draft permit.  Also, they will be on the agency’s webpage.

• Look at attachments: maps, tables. 

• How big is it: like a football field, like ten football fields? 

• Get a picture in your mind: 4,500 gal per minute =

  

  • Ask basic questions: Where will the water go? What exactly is in the water? How much is in there? How do we know? How does it affect living organisms?
  • Get a species list for the area.

• How long will the permit last?   

• Any special protections in region? 

• What are they not talking about?

Find out more:

  • Look up the laws cited. Just copy and paste the citation into google and you will get the full text. Structure your comments around these laws. They are what the agency cares about.
  • Call the agency contact person listed on the public notice and ask them your questions.
  • Research what has happened in similar kinds of developments.
  • Please only use .org, .edu, .gov and cited sources. 
  • Search for the issue you’re commenting on in the news. Call the journalist who wrote the article.
  • Read other comments: 
    • Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council (esp. for stuff on oil and gas in Inlet)
    • http://pebblewatch.com/resources/permitting/ 
    • SalmonState (for Pebble questions)
    • EarthJustice (for large-scale issues)
    • Northern Alaska Environmental Center (for northern Alaska issues)
    • Trustees for Alaska
    • Cook Inletkeeper
    • The Alaska Center

Analysis:

  • Persuade your reader.
  • What is at stake? 
  • Keep to the facts.
  • Quote and cite laws:

 

  • Lists, numbers, diagrams, research results, examples, are all good.
  • If you have a lot of points, number them. 
  • Topic sentences. 
  • Always address any special protections to land or animals.
  • Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Tell ‘em what you told ‘em. 

Start like this: 


Angela Hunt

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

Division of Water

Wastewater Discharge Authorization Program

555 Cordova Street

Anchorage, AK 99501

Regarding: Aquaculture Facilities in Alaska General Permit, Permit No. AKG130000

Dear Ms. Hunt: 


Go!




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