By Margaret Bauman
A draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed released May 18 by the US Environmental Protection Agency says facilities failures in a large-scale mine would destroy rivers and streams and degrade area habitat for decades.
The document cited 10 major areas for potential failures under the mine scenario, as well as half a dozen damaging impacts on the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, even in the event of no failure or routine operation, including impact on fish from habitat loss and modification within and beyond the area of mining activity.
The draft document is available to download at www.epa.gov/bristolbay. The website also contains information on upcoming public meetings on the draft document and how to submit comments during the 60-day comment period.
Dennis McLaren, regional administrator for the EPA in Seattle, said during a news teleconference that there would also be opportunity for public participation in the peer review process in Anchorage in August.
The draft document notes that the watershed’s fisheries support at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually.
The Pebble Partnership, which wants to develop the mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson, a diversified global mining firm, and London-based Anglo American plc. Northern Dynasty estimates the area has 5.94 billion tons of measured and indicated resources, including 55 billion pounds of copper, 67 million ounces of gold and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum.
John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, said mine proponents should be given the chance to complete their project design, including an environmental mitigation strategy designed to protect the fish and water resources, before conclusions are drawn.
Bristol Bay commercial fishermen meanwhile applauded the draft document.
“The EPA’s scientific report makes it clear Pebble Mine’s plan to dig a hole displacing 10 billion tons of waste material is bad for Bristol Bay’s fish and salmon habitat,” said Lindsey Bloom, a leader of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, a national coalition of 95 American commercial fishing organizations and industry-related businesses. “The EPA should take the next logical step and prohibit or restrict toxic mine waste in the Bristol Bay watershed.”
“Too many American fisheries have been wrecked by habitat damage and chemical pollution,” said Robin Samuelsen, of Dillingham, a veteran Bristol Bay fisherman. “This may be our country’s last chance to get it right the first time. Bristol Bay is the largest and most valuable salmon fishery on the planet, and this is where the American people are drawing the line.”
US Sen Maria Cantwell, D-WA, called the document “an important step toward protecting wild Bristol Bay salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them.
“This draft report validates the concerns of the Alaska and Washington fishing fleets that the proposed Pebble mine could have devastating impacts to the Pacific Northwest’s maritime economy,” she said.