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FAIRBANKS (AP) — Activists pushing against oil development in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge dominated a Bureau of Land Management public meeting in Fairbanks.
The open house format meeting on plans for lease sales on the refuge's coastal plain was quickly interrupted by protesters Monday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .
The meeting was planned to provide information about the project to the public to inform their comments, said Joe Balash, the assistant secretary for land and minerals management.
But protesters used it to aired grievances about the meeting style, its short notice and the lack of consultation with Alaska Natives during the drafting process for the environmental impact statement.
Jody Potts, head of the Village Public Officer Program for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, spoke out against the meeting's organization, noting that testimony needs to be able to be heard by the public while also being recorded.
"My people, the Gwich'in, will be the most affected by this," Potts said. "And our government that is supposed to represent all of us equally and freely is preventing us from properly commenting, and I think that needs to be justified."
Balash said he feels the majority of Alaska residents still support drilling in the section of the refuge, but opponents are vocal.
"Public sentiment in Alaska for a long time has been largely in favor of leasing and exploring in the coastal plain and ANWR," Balash said Monday. "But the people who are opposed are incredibly passionate about it and feel very strongly, and I think we're seeing that here tonight."
Public comment on the draft environmental impact statement is being accepted through March 13. Several more public meets are planned for locations across the state this month.