Problems with Pebble

Proposed copper-and-gold mine in Alaska could harm fish

Spawning salmon filter through the crystalline shallows in a tributary river to Bristol Bay, Alaska, near where an immense open-pit mine has been proposed.

An Alaska Senator is the latest to join the opposition to an immense copper-and-gold mine proposed for the headwaters of Alaska’s famed Bristol Bay.

In Monday’s edition of the Anchorage Daily News, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is quoted saying the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed without harming the Bristol Bay region’s world-famous red salmon runs.

“Wrong mine, wrong place, too big,” Begich said in an interview with anchorage Daily News reporter Lisa Demers. “Too many potential long-term impacts to a fishery that is pretty critical to that area but also to Alaska, to world markets.”

According to Demers, Begich is the first member of Alaska’s current congressional delegation to speak out firmly in opposition to the mine.

Begich’s comments followed the release Wednesday of a scientific study by the Environmental Protection Agency that said the big mine posed significant risks to Bristol Bay salmon.

The huge Pebble gold and copper deposit is at the headwaters of two rivers that together account for 25 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon production.

Bristol Bay produces half the world’s red salmon and is home to the largest run of salmon in the world, including all five Eastern Pacific species of salmon.

According the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kvijack River, a tributary below the proposed mine, has the single largest red salmon run in the world.

Begich, in an interview this past weekend with the Daily News, described how he “met repeatedly with players on both sides in an effort to understand whether a big mine could be built without damaging the fish.”

“I think it will harm the environment, harm the salmon, harm the jobs that are connected to the fisheries industry out there,” Begich said in the interview.

A spokesperson from the Pebble Partnership said the company “was disappointed Begich had come out against a mine that would generate significant jobs and revenue.”

The EPA study is not without its critics, including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who accused the EPA of “overreaching,” according to the Daily News.

Opponents of the mine include environmental, fishing and Native groups.

Tim Bristol, Alaska Program Director for the cold-water conservation group Trout Unlimited, said his group supports Begich’s stance and praised his “leadership in protecting this sportsman’s paradise.”

“Hunters and anglers, guides, lodge and sportfishing business owners, and others across Alaska and America are grateful for Sen. Begich’s decision to follow the EPA’s clear science and oppose the Pebble Mine,” Bristol said. “As he well understands, Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place, and is a threat to Alaska’s sportfishing economy.”

Although the exact nature of the final Pebble Mine is yet to be determined, it is known the Pebble Mines Corp. is proposing to dig for what’s been called low-grade ore using an open pit mine two miles wide and several thousand feet deep.

Most of the expected 10 billion tons of waste rock is to be stored in two artificial lakes, and mine opponents are fearful the dams holding the lakes could collapse because of the earthquake-prone Alaska geology.

According to an EPA fact sheet, the federal agency, under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, has the authority “to restrict, prohibit, deny or withdraw use of an area as a disposal site for dredged or fill material” if such discharge would have “unacceptable adverse” effects on things such as municipal water supplies or fisheries.

The agency says it has issued just more than a dozen final veto actions since 1972.


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