Nuiqsuit Subsistence Users Speak Out against Court Decision

Press Release

REVISED from 5/26

For Immediate Release:

May 27, 2015

Contact:

Brian Litmans, Senior Staff Attorney, Trustees for Alaska, (907) 433-2007

Nuiqsuit Subsistence Users Speak Out against Court Decision

Court Finds Corps’ After-the-Fact Analysis Adequate

ConocoPhillips Allowed to Move Forward with CD-5 Project

Anchorage, Alaska (May 26, 2015)—Today, the U.S. District Court approved a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) for ConocoPhillips’ Colville Delta 5 (“CD-5”) oil and gas project near the community of Nuiqsut. The permit was challenged by local residents because of their concern over impacts to subsistence resources.  Despite changes to the project and new information about the environment and climate change, the Court found that the Corps does not need to further evaluate environmental impacts. The Court also found that the Corps adequately justified its change in decision to allow the project to proceed.

The original review of the project was completed in 2004.  Since then, the project changed and new information about the project came to light. Plaintiffs challenged the Corps decision under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Those laws require that the project approved must be the least environmentally damaging of the options available, and that the Corps look at all environmental impacts.  In an earlier ruling, the Court agreed with the plaintiffs that the Corps violated the law when it failed to explain why it did not undertake further analysis of the project.  Despite the earlier ruling, the Court today allowed the Corps to provide an after-the-fact explanation for why it did not need to supplement its 10-year-old analysis. The court also determined the Corps adequately explained its reversed position on whether there were less damaging alternatives.

The challenged permit allows ConocoPhillips to build multiple bridges and a six-mile-long road between CD-5 and the Alpine facilities in the Colville River Delta. The project runs directly through sensitive fishing and hunting areas for the residents of Nuiqsut. The Colville River Delta is the largest and most complex delta in the Arctic Coastal Plain. Two caribou herds (Central Arctic and Teshekpuk Lake) depend on the Delta, along with many species of fish and birds. The residents of Nuiqsut rely on the area to support their subsistence way of life.

The Corps originally denied the permit in 2010 because the project threatened the Colville River Delta. But in 2011, the Corps changed its position and said Conoco could build the road and several bridges in the middle of this important subsistence area.

The plaintiffs are represented by Trustees for Alaska, an Alaska-based non-profit public interest environmental law firm.

Quotes:

“I am very unhappy with the decision. The Corps and Conoco made behind-the-scenes decisions that cut us out of the process, even though this development is in the heart of our most important hunting and fishing areas. We should have the right to weigh in on decisions that jeopardize our way of life,” said Sam Kunaknana, a plaintiff in the case. “This is an environmental injustice to hunters. The high embankments make the road impassable, and prevented me from hunting for seal this winter.”  “I want my children and grandchildren to continue to hunt and fish in the same way I was taught. This decision puts our land, our traditions, and the future of our community at risk and we were not even consulted.”

“This isn’t just about our land and the animals. It is about the health and safety of our people. The existing development and road to CD-5 are already blocking access to our traditional hunting and fishing areas. Conoco’s activities are making it harder and harder to put food on the table, and today’s decision makes it more challenging,” said plaintiff Martha Itta. “We depend on these resources for our survival. We aren’t going to be able to continue our subsistence way of life if we live in the middle of an oil field.”

“The Colville River Delta is critical for subsistence hunting and fishing. It is disappointing that the Court allowed the Corps to justify a decision after it has been made, without public involvement,” said Victoria Clark, Executive Director of local law firm Trustees for Alaska. “People need to have adequate information before the agency makes a decision on how projects like CD-5 proceed.”

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Trustees for Alaska, established in 1974, is an Alaska-based, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm. Trustees provides legal counsel and services free of charge to community and citizen groups, Native villages, statewide coalitions, conservation groups, hunting and fishing groups, and individual Alaskans, to protect and sustain Alaska’s lands, waters, wildlife, and people.

Read more about our work on this case.

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