By Bob Shavelson
In 2005, Cook Inletkeeper stumbled across a public notice for an exploration permit to conduct hard rock mining activities in the Bristol Bay watershed. The notice caught our attention not only because of the size of the proposed exploration area, but also because of its location in the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s rich salmon fisheries. Soon after, we met with the project proponent, Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, and began seeing maps and plans for the project. While the mine site and its associated impacts were confined to the Bristol Bay watershed, we quickly learned Northern Dynasty planned to ship its ore concentrate from the west side of Cook Inlet – near Iniskin Bay – and to pull a power line across Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula to run the mine.
Today, the proposed Pebble Mine has taken on a life of its own, and it’s become the litmus test for responsible development in Alaska. The question confronting Alaskans is not whether we support or oppose mining – we all use metals so mining will continue to be an important engine in our economy. Rather, the question has become, do we put a massive hard rock mine in the sensitive headwaters of the world’s richest red salmon fishery?
This question has driven countless Alaskans to act to protect the jobs and local economies our sustainable fisheries support in Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet. Despite the fact Governor Parnell has repeatedly promised Alaskans he will “never trade one resource for another,” his Administration has done nothing to show it can or will fulfill this promise. That’s why Alaskans were forced to turn to the Environmental Protection Agency, which agreed to undertake a “watershed assessment” to understand the likely impacts from a large scale hard rock mine in the Bristol Bay watershed.
The Watershed Assessment underwent rigorous scientific scrutiny, and its findings paint a disturbing picture of unavoidable, long term impacts to salmon and the families they support, if large scale open pit mining gets a foothold in the Bristol Bay watershed. But that’s not surprising to Alaskans who understand the scope and dimensions of Pebble: the proposed mine would need more energy and water than all of Anchorage; the hole created by Pebble could hold all other mines in Alaska combined; and the massive earthen dam needed to hold back billions of gallons of toxic mine waste would have to be designed and built to last forever.
EPA will accept comments through May 31 on its latest watershed assessment. For more information, go to: http://www2.epa.gov/bristolbay. To make it easier to comment – and to have a great time in the process – come to the Pebble Prevention Party tonight, May 29, at 5-8 p.m. at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Music by Blues Trollers, and a great new short video that drives home the importance of Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet fisheries to all Alaskans. Make your voice heard. The once-proud salmon runs in Europe, New England and the Pacific Northwest are a thing of the past. And they’re gone because not enough people spoke up. We have a chance to do it right in Alaska. So come to Alice’s tonight at 5 p.m. and tell EPA: not this mine, in this place.
Bob Shavelson is the Executive Director/Inletkeeper at Cook Inletkeeper, a community-based organization that works toward clean water and healthy salmon throughout the Cook Inlet watershed and beyond.
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