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OPINION: State shouldn't let Pebble Mine off the hook

September 19th, 2014 | By Kimberly Williams Print this article   Email this article  

Many championship games are won and lost in the last closing moments before the final buzzer.

That is where we stand today in regards to protecting Bristol Bay from the ruinous effects of the proposed Pebble Mine. Those of us who treasure Bristol Bay and the world-class commercial and recreation fishery it supports have been at this fight a long time. But we cannot let up now.

We should be encouraged. Things are going our way. The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized just how big a threat this massive earth-moving experiment poses for the internationally important Bristol Bay fishery. They are proposing effective rules for protecting Bristol Bay and our way of life.

Now is the time to be heard.

Recently, the world got a shocking reminder of just how bad things can turn out when these mining experiments go sour. The Mount Polley Mine disaster in British Columbia's Fraser River headwaters caused me great sadness, and my heart goes out to the people of Likely and Canada's First Nation's People. If you haven't seen the video footage, by all means Google "Polley mine disaster." It's a jolting wake-up call, to say the least.

We simply cannot let that happen here.

The sheer scale of the Pebble Mine is difficult to fathom. The resulting pit would be deep enough to stack the Conoco Phillips Building in Anchorage more than thirteen times; leftover mine waste would fill an NFL football stadium more than 3,900 times, and the mine footprint and operations would destroy nearly 100 miles of salmon streams?

The important thing is, all the toxic waste generated by the mine would stay forever, upstream from Bristol Bay, separated only by an earthen dam. The mine engineers make great promises about "modern" mining techniques, based on "principles of science."

But here's an important piece of context: The same company that designed the tailings dam at Pebble also designed the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia. Mining companies are perfectly willing to gamble our fishery for their wealth.

They care only about their bottom line or the need for capital to build the next mine, and not the thousands of fishing jobs that would be lost or the cultural importance of the salmon fishery.

Across Alaska and across the United States, more and more people are waking up to just how precious and irreplaceable this fishery is. But no one has more on the line than the people of Bristol Bay, Area M Fishers and surrounding communities.

The Alutiq, Dena'ina, and Yup'ik people have been fishing in Bristol Bay for 10,000 years. The commercial and sport fishing industry, so dependent on the healthy supply of salmon, generates nearly $500 million in revenue annually and creates at least 14,000 seasonal jobs.

Bristol Bay is the source of nearly 50 percent of the world's commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon. That is a sustainable source of healthy protein for people all the world over.

Earlier this year, Environmental Protection Agency released a study on the suitability of large-scale mining in Bristol Bay that confirmed our own knowledge: large-scale mining poses a danger to the long-term productivity and sustainability of the fishery.

The EPA hearings throughout Bristol Bay highlighted the overwhelming regional opposition to the project — with over 93 percent of the total testimony from all six communities (Dillingham, Naknek, Igiugig, Levelock, New Stuyahok, and Nondalton) in strong opposition.

According to the EPA analysis, the destruction brought by Pebble Mine would be unprecedented in the history of the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program in the Bristol Bay region, as well as the rest of Alaska and perhaps the nation.

Based on this scientific analysis, the EPA has made a proposal, known as the "proposed determination." This proposed rule will place significant restrictions on mine waste disposal in the rivers, streams and wetlands within the Bristol Bay watershed.

This is very good news.

But follow through is everything. It's time to cut to the chase, and say that Bristol Bay is more precious than gold.

EPA Region 10 is seeking public comment on its proposal until Sept. 19. Please urge the EPA to take action to protect the fishery and its 14,000 sustainable jobs, and remove the uncertainty and threat associated with the Pebble Mine project

The EPA needs to hear us in order for it to do the right thing. Go to www2.epa.gov/bristolbay and support the proposed determination. We cannot let up pressure.

Your voice counts. Use it.

Kimberly Williams is a subsistence fisherman and the executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of Our Land), an association of Bristol Bay native village corporations and tribes.

 


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