By Margaret Bauman
Large scale mining at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed could wipe out up to 90 miles of streams in the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, the US Environmental Protection Agency said April 26 in releasing a revised assessment.
The document said there would be a loss of up to 90 miles of streams and up to 4,800 acres of wetlands under scenarios for the proposed Pebble mine prospect.
The report also noted that indirect effects of stream and wetland losses would include reductions of the quality of downstream habitat for coho, sockeye and Chinook salmon, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
The EPA noted that its revised draft assessment is not an in-depth assessment of a specific mine, but rather an examination of impacts of reasonably foreseeable mining activities in the Bristol Bay region, given the nature of the watershed’s mineral deposits and the requirements for successful mine development.
The study was initiated at the request of Alaska Native tribes and others concerned that large-scale mining at the headwaters of the watershed would adversely impact fisheries habitat, which is critical to the multi-million dollar commercial fishing and sport and hunting industries, as well as subsistence users and the region’s abundant wildlife. The watershed provides habitat for numerous species, including 29 fish species, more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, and more than 190 bird species.
Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and Trout Unlimited said they were pleased with the report, while the Pebble Limited Partnership, calling the revised document flawed and biased and urged the EPA to abandon its report.
“We are fighting to protect 14,000 American jobs and an entire industry from a risky proposal to dig the largest open-pit mine in North American in the heart of the Bristol Bay salmon nursery,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.”
“Pebble is far bigger and more threatening to renewable resource jobs than any other mine proposal in Alaska and it’s planned for the worst location possible,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. “Clearly the time for action to protect Bristol Bay under the Clean Water Act is now.”
John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership, criticized the EPA for not waiting until the PLP’s detailed mine plan is available. Shively said the PLP wants the right to submit a permit application and have its plans reviewed, based on best available science and relevant federal, state and local laws.
The PLP remains committed to working with the EPA under the National Environmental policy Act when submitting its mine plan for review, he said.
The entire revised draft assessment document and details on how to submit public comment by the May 31 deadline are at www.epa.gov/bristolbay