Advocates for construction of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed are wrapping up a series of panel discussions in Anchorage aimed at better informing the public of their research.
The Pebble Limited Partnership, with the Keystone Center of Colorado as its facilitator, scheduled four panel discussions based on its 27,000-page environmental baseline study, in an effort to explain to the public how mining and fisheries can co-exist in Bristol Bay. The majority of residents of the Bristol Bay region are strongly opposed to the mine, which they feel would be destructive to the multi-million dollar commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries.
The US Environmental Protection Agency meanwhile is working to complete its Bristol Bay watershed analysis, to determine effects such a massive mine would likely have on the environment and fisheries habitat of the world-class sockeye salmon fishery. The EPA draft report issued earlier this year determined that such large scale mining would have adverse effects on spawning habitat critical to this diverse salmon fishery. The Pebble Limited Partnership, backed by other mining advocates, has challenged that report.
During a panel discussion Oct. 9 on fish, wildlife and habitat, retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Hal Geiger voiced criticism of sections of the Pebble report, saying the research did not answer the question “what fraction of the Bristol Bay resources will be affected.
“We are lost in the details and we need to have this explained to us in a way that is easier to understand and gives us some confidence,” he said.
Geiger said that if Alaskans are going to make tradeoffs between mineral resources and salmon resources, then Pebble has to provide more information so people understand just what those tradeoffs are.
Fisheries scientist Carol Ann Woody, whose extensive field work on salmon in the Bristol Bay watershed has made her critical of the mine project, questioned the approach, data quality and intended uses of the data in the study regarding salmon escapement.
Keystone’s Todd Bryan said he felt the panel discussions, engaging scientists from around the country who are volunteering their time, are identifying places in the baseline studies that need to be improved, but also confirming research that has been well done.