The Pebble Mine Project is facing the potential for federal restrictions that seek to protect the Bristol Bay watershed. For those concerned about the mine, it’s action they’ve been waiting years for, but others say the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to preemptively veto the project.

On Tuesday, the EPA began the first of seven public hearings in Alaska, something the EPA says will help determine if it should move forward with restrictions of withdraw them. Residents in Anchorage had the chance to voice their concerns and opinions at the Egan Center.

The hearings came after the EPA invoked a section of the Clean Water Act called 404 C. It allows the agency to prohibit or restrict the discharge of dredged or fill material if a project could have adverse effects on fishery areas.

According to the EPA, three years of science shows the Pebble Mine poses significant risks to the Bristol Bay watershed. The Pebble Partnership says the decision to veto the project comes before it has filed for a permit is based on incomplete information, and for that reason calls the move unprecedented.

“EPA has never preemptively stopped a project in the 42 year history of the Clean Water Act,” said Mike Heatwole, Pebble Limited Partnership. “And the precedent that would be established outside of the permitting process is of grave concern, not just to Pebble, but all of the state-wide trade and business associations, and many national organizations.”

 The EPA says it’s used Section 404C of the Clean Water Act only 13 times before, and its decision is based on an environmental assessment that shows the stream and wetland loss would be unprecedented in the nation.

“What we have here is an extraordinarily large mine in an extraordinarily important fisher location,” said Dennis McLerran, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 10. “So this is an extraordinary use of authority that we use very infrequently very sparingly but we use it when it’s really important.”

There is no set time for the hearing to wrap up; each person was given two minutes to speak after signing up. The EPA will be visiting six more communities in southwest Alaska over the next three days.