At this time of year, conversation among my commercial fishing friends here in Bellingham and other places, turns from ski conditions to fish prices, from bikes to boats as they prepare for another season in Bristol Bay.
While I’ve not yet been to Bristol Bay, it’s a place of mythical qualities. A land of rivers and lush vegetation, Bristol Bay has been home to the Yup’ik, Aluti’iq and Dena’ina peoples for many thousands of years. The salmon that return every year—36.9 million on average—are both a critical part of this ecosystem and a key source of food and subsistence fishing. Bristol Bay salmon also supports a thriving commercial fishery—valued at $283 million in 2018—that creates over 14,000 jobs for local communities and supports my fishermen friends here in Bellingham and Kodiak, and throughout Washington state and Alaska. Once caught, these fish find their way to our dinner plates—if you’ve ever had wild Alaska sockeye, odds are good that you’re eating Bristol Bay catch. The abundance of salmon and trout in the crystal-clear rivers of Bristol Bay also attracts recreational fishermen for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Sounds like the perfect place to put a huge open pit mine for copper, gold and molybdenum, right? And yet, that is exactly what the Pebble Limited Partnership is proposing to do. The planned mine is over a mile in length, 1-mile-wide and 200 meters deep. Owned by Canadian junior mining company Northern Dynasty, Pebble Mine will destroy more than 3,500 acres of wetlands and more than 81 miles of salmon streams in Bristol Bay. When the mine closes, an estimated 1.1 billion tons of mine tailings (ore waste) will be dumped into an open pit to be monitored and maintained in perpetuity. Infrastructure to support the mine will include construction of a massive tailings storage facility, treatment ponds, dams and embankments and a private 83-mile road. It will also include two terminals, an ice-breaker barge system across Lake Iliamna, a port facility on Cook Inlet, a 270-megawatt power plant and a 188-mile-long natural gas pipeline over land and under water in Cook Inlet and Iliamna Lake.
The mine poses clear threats to the ocean ecosystem and to commercial fisheries. Unsurprisingly, the Draft Environmental Impacts Statement for Pebble Mine fails to consider the full impact of the mine, including the possibility of a catastrophic tailings dam failure that would dramatically reduce fish populations and damage both the marine and in-river ecosystems. A mine situated a mile inland may seem far enough from the ocean but both the rivers—and the salmon that populate them—are inextricably linked to the sea. Even under the best case scenarios, Pebble Mine will irreparably harm and forever change Bristol Bay and all life that depends on keeping our ocean clean, healthy and thriving.
It seems unbelievable that the Trump Administration would green light Pebble Mine but it’s exactly what they are attempting to do right now. As spring turns to summer, and thoughts turn to fish and fishing, the Trump administration is fast-tracking the process to get Pebble Mine approved. We can’t let that happen.
You can comment on the draft EIS through June 29. Please join me in saying no to Pebble Mine.