The United States Army Corps of Engineers is now fast-tracking the permitting for the proposed Pebble Mine, a giant open-pit and underground gold and copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The rivers of this vast watershed spawn North America’s largest remaining salmon populations and support thousands of fishing jobs, and a traditional way of life Alaska Native tribes in the region. And, of course, the landscape is also home to many other creatures – grizzly bears, moose, bald eagles, and more. If this mine seems like a catastrophic idea for Bristol Bay and the life it contains, it is. After years of study, the Obama Administration decided that the proposed mine—which would poison rivers—risked too much of the region’s living riches and should not go ahead. That was then.
The Army Corps has just announced the opening of a public commenting period that at first was just 30 days, but was extended to June 29, 2018, with public hearings scheduled in Alaska. Environmentalists are asking everyone who loves salmon and eagles to make a comment telling the Army Corps to stop the Pebble Mine project. They say there is no time to waste, that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation and that your help is needed now.
The prospect of Pebble Mine has become more pressing since the Trump Administration opened the door to it last year. And the process has sped forward despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suspending a planned withdrawal of the Obama administration proposed Clean Water Act restrictions on mining the Pebble Deposit abutting Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay’s watershed is the most ecologically and economically important remaining salmon basin on Earth. Its annual runs average 40 million to 60 million wild fish—half of the world’s wild salmon in one watershed. These fish support the world’s largest commercial sockeye salmon fishery, the largest remaining king salmon runs and an internationally renowned sport fishing economy.
“The major rivers that feed into Bristol Bay are some of the last fully intact large-scale wild salmon spawning grounds left in the world,” said Safina Center Fellow Paul Greenberg, a writer who writes prolifically about fish and fisheries. “Siting a mine of Pebble’s magnitude within those watersheds will open the door to industrialization of the region and threaten a commercial and sport fishery valued at more than half a billion dollars annually.”
If fully built out, Pebble Mine could span three miles across and would require a huge tailings dam and containment pond to “hold” the 2.5-10 billion gallons of mine waste produced over the mine’s lifetime. Accidents could destroy the existing values of the whole region. Chronic leaks and a near-eternal poison drip seem virtually guaranteed. Pebble Mine could destroy Bristol Bay’s salmon stocks.
“This is the wrong mine in the wrong place and we won’t stand by and watch our homeland be transformed into mining district. It’s not matter of if, but when,” says Alannah Hurley, of a toxic leak. “You’re looking at transforming a region with the last great sockeye run into a full-blown mining district. It’s a risk that the people of Bristol Bay over the last decade over and over again have said we’re not willing to take.”
But, the Pebble Mine proposal is not the only plan now on the drawing board in Alaska. What’s also on the table is a statewide ballot initiative supported by salmon advocates that would require all large development projects to abide by stronger salmon protections, including limits on damage to salmon streams and rivers, such as those in Bristol Bay.
Predictably, Pebble Limited Partnership is teaming up with other mining companies fight the initiative. So far, they have raised millions of dollars to pit against the Stand for Salmon initiative. But the voices of many stand strong and united against those of the corporations pushing to build Pebble Mine.
We are asking you to send your comments—however brief—very soon. You can help. Protecting Bristol Bay means speaking out against the proposed Pebble Mine. Commenting instructions and more information about the Army Corps’ application review process can be found here.