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Canada’s massive mining dam failure reinforces opposition to Pebble Mine in Alaska

FISHING — Just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has opened another round of comments on the controversial proposal to authorized the Pebble Mine near the headwaters of Alaska's prized Bristol Bay salmon fisheries, a disaster in Canada has struck an emphatic case in point.

Monday’s devastating tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley copper mine in British Columbia sent an estimated 4.5 million cubic meters of mine waste solids and 2.6 billion gallons of mine waste liquids into streams, rivers, and lakes in the headwaters of the Fraser River watershed. 

  • See an aerial survey of the impacts in the video above.

The massive release of materials from a mine tailings pond near Quesnel is “virtually impossible to clean up,” according to a marine researcher — and may have already damaged salmon habitat beyond repair.

Dr. Peter Ross heads Vancouver Aquarium’s ocean pollution research program and said on Wednesday the spill likely spells death for the fish that use the affected waterways.

Missoula-based Bonnie Gestring makes a few sobering comparisons between the Mount Polley Mine in a post on Earth Island Journal:

  • Both mines are large, open pit, copper porphyry mines at the headwaters of important salmon streams.
  • The company behind the proposed Pebble Mine, the Pebble Limited Partnership, has repeatedly pointed to the Fraser River as an example of a watershed where mining and fish can coexist.
  • Knight Piesold, the firm that provided designs for the tailings pond lifts at Mount Polley, also provided the designs for the tailings pond for the proposed Pebble Mine.

Moreover, a consulting firm in 2011 warned the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment that a contingency plan was needed should the tailings pond holding mining waste at the Mount Polley Mine fail.  No contingencies were made.

"It is the toxic time bomb explosion that all of us who've fought the Pebble Mine have predicted could happen," writes of the National Resource Defense Council in the Huffington Post.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already taken the first step to stop development of the Pebble Mine under the Clean Water Act, but the agency opened up the process for one more public comment period before making a final decision.

Care to comment?

  • Here's an update and another video from the Vancouver Sun.

More looks at EPA stand on Alaska’s Pebble Mine

FISHING — The EPA announcement last week that it will be a force against the proposed Pebble Mine that threatens salmon stocks in Alaska's Bristol Bay shook some ground last week.

Here are some more looks at the situation.

EPA to fight proposed copper mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said the proposed open-pit copper mine in the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska posed too much of a threat to the water and the salmon spawning grounds in one of the world's best fisheries.
—New York Times; February 28

Alaska's Bristol Bay through the lens of a National Geographic photographer
Photographer Michael Melford's photographs taken for a 2010 National Geographic feature on the dispute about the Pebble Mine project in the watershed for Alaska's Bristol Bay, an important salmon spawning area and fishery.
National Geographic Daily News; March 2

EPA scrutinizes Pebble Mine impact on Bristol Bay salmon

UPDATED 3:55 p.m. on Feb. 28 with link to Associated Press story and comment from Pebble Mine official that EPA action is a "major overreach."

FISHING — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will use its Clean Water Act authorities to review impacts of a controversial proposed mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  

The proposed mine is opposed by anglers and conservationists from Alaska south along the Pacific Coast for the extreme risk it would present to the nation's greatest salmon fisheries.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, applauded the EPA action, noting that the Pebble Mine could have devastating effects on Washington state’s fishing industry, which employs thousands of workers in the Pacific Northwest and contributes more than $670 million to the regional economy each year. 

  • Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is working to advance the mine project, called the EPA process a "major overreach" in today's story by the Associated Press

The EPA action announced today prohibits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing permits for a mine until review developing the environmental criteria for permitting is complete. The EPA has asked the Army Corps, the state of Alaska, and the mine project sponsor to provide evidence that the mine would not negatively impact water quality or aquatic resources, including the many fish species in the region.

Reaction includes:

Sen. Patty Murray said:

“I applaud the EPA for recognizing the real threat posed by this shortsighted mining proposal and taking action to protect Washington state’s fishing families,” said Sen.  Murray.  “The EPA’s Watershed Assessment has demonstrated that large scale mining such as the proposed Pebble Mine would devastate this critical industry that supports thousands of local families and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy.”


--Sen. Maria Cantwell said:

“I applaud this action today to protect Northwest fishing jobs from being destroyed by the largest open pit mine in North America,” said Cantwell. “Washington and Alaska fishermen depend on Bristol Bay for their livelihoods. Ruining headwaters with mining pollution is too big a risk to existing jobs in Pacific Northwest.

“Today, the administration is saying that potential gold mining is not more important than a $1.5 billion sockeye fishing industry. Gold might be an valuable commodity but it’s not more important than Pacific Northwest salmon.

“Wild salmon populations already face a number of threats,” Cantwell added. “Adding mining pollution to the spawning ground for the world’s number one sockeye salmon fishery doesn't make economic sense. Mining pollution could threaten 14,000 fishing jobs and a critical food source that subsistence fishermen depend on. I will work hard to ensure that fishermen have a voice as the 404C process moves forward. We cannot afford to put thousands of fishing jobs at risk.”

In June 2013, Murray and four other West Coast senators wrote a letter to President Obama calling the Administration to factor in the impact a permit for a mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, would have on the West Coast fishing industry.   

Earlier this year, the EPA released a watershed assessment that details the potential impacts of a large scale mine development near Bristol Bay. 

Read on for a sampling of reaction from sportsman and environmental groups:

Cantwell asks Obama to limit mining in Bristol Bay

FISHING — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is asking President Barack Obama to take action to restrict or prohibit the development of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

The Associated Press reports that In a letter sent Thursday, Cantwell asked Obama to invoke a rarely used authority under the federal Clean Water Act to protect the region that is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

The Democratic senator says thousands of jobs in Washington state are tied to Bristol Bay salmon fishing.

She, fishermen and others are rallying against the proposed Pebble Mine Thursday in Seattle.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report last week concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant risks salmon.

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole says Cantwell’s request is unprecedented and has never been used before a resource project has filed for permits. He says “it flies in the face of due process.”

He also criticized the EPA document as a political report intended to harm the project’s ability to apply for permits. 

Washington fishermen oppose Alaska mine proposal

FISHING — SEATTLE — Washington fishermen who oppose a proposed mine in Alaska are having their say at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing today in Seattle.

According to the Associated Press, Sen. Maria Cantwell requested the hearing because she says fishermen would be affected if the Pebble Mine damages the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.

Cantwell said nearly 1,000 people in Washington hold commercial permits for Bristol Bay fishing that was worth more than $113 million in 2008.

Sportfishing groups also have formally opposed the mine because of its threats to the country's richest  salmon producing waters.

Recreational salmon fishing was worth another $75 million for Washington businesses.

The copper and gold mine is proposed near the headwaters of Bristol Bay rivers. Opponents worry about pollution and loss of habitat. Supporters say the mine would create jobs.

The EPA plans seven more hearings in Alaska and could veto the project under clean water laws.

Sen. Cantwell takes on Pebble Mine

Our very own U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell said that she would oppose development of the world’s largest hard rock mine, the Pebble Mine, in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed should science determine it could negatively impact the salmon populations on which thousands of Washington commercial fishery, seafood processing, culinary, recreational fishing, and ecotourism jobs depend. 

Cantwell is the first U.S. Senator to call on the Environmental Protection Agency to block any large development project in Bristol Bay – like the Pebble Mine proposal – if the EPA finds that this development would harm salmon and the livelihoods that depend on salmon.

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Cantwell expressed her support of the EPA’s decision to conduct a thorough scientific analysis of the effect a large-scale development project would have on the Bristol Bay watershed, adding that the Bristol Bay salmon populations are “economic lynchpins” for commercial fishermen not just in Alaska but also in Washington state. Bristol Bay is one of the most productive salmon runs in the world, generating a total value of at least $500 million dollars each year for commercial and recreational fisheries.

Thousands of Washington state jobs, including processing and the restaurant industry, depend on healthy, sustainable salmon populations. In 2008, Bristol Bay yielded over $113 million dollars in total value for Washington state commercial fisheries while recreational salmon fisheries yielded an additional $75 million for Washington state businesses alone.

Sen. Cantewell steps up for salmon, wades into Pebble Mine fray

SALMON FISHING — Citing concerns about the effect the Pebble Mine in Alaska could have on wild salmon,Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, told the Seattle Times she plans to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to consider using the Clean Water Act to stop the mine on Bristol Bay.

But Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young has already introduced a bill that would strip the EPA of the authority to stop the project.

The issue involves a high-stakes battle that pits gold and copper against the most productive salmon fisheries in the world.

Tonight: Trout Unlimited to discuss fishery impacts of Alaska’s Pebble Mine

FISHING – Efforts to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay fishery from a huge proposed copper sulfide mine will be discussed at the Spokane Trout Unlimited meeting tonightsept. 5, 7 p.m., at the Northern Lights Brewery, 1003 E. Trent Ave.

A program will be presented by Dwayne Meadows, TU’s outreach director for Bristol Bay area, known for its world-class fisheries.

Sportsman urge EPA to spare Bristol Bay from Pebble Mine

FISHING A coalition of more than 360 fishing, hunting and sporting organizations from nearly every state in the nation U.S. have signed a letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect Bristol Bay, Alaska, from potential watershed damage by the proposed Pebble Mine.

"Bristol Bay is the single most important wild salmon fishery in the world,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “It generates roughly $450 million a year in economic impact and sustains about 12,000 jobs.”

On Feb. 7, the agency announced plans to assess the southwestern Alaska watershed, famous for its salmon and trout fishing, to study how open pit mining and large-scale development projects would affect water quality and fisheries.

The sportsmens groups will be in Washington, D.C., this week lobbying lawmakers and urging EPA to go a step further to guarantee a future for the fisheries.

Read on for details.

Sig to the rescue

When the Deadliest Catch first got popular somewhere around 2005 or 2006, one of us here at DTE had mixed emotions about it.   Yeah it was cool that such an intense occupation and lifestyle was becoming more well known,  but it reeked of exploitation and overexposure (what television show doesn’t).  Truth of the matter is, one of us at DTE spent five summers in Alaska around similar people and similar occupations, and now the whole world was getting a taste of it from the comfort of their own homes.  There you have it.

Of all the captains and ships that have sense been featured on Deadliest Catch, none of enjoyed the spotlight more than Captain Sig Hansen and his vessel The Northwestern.  From guest spots on every talk show host’s couches, to Grand Marshal at last year’s Seattle SeaFair, Sig has caught his 15 minutes and hasn’t let go. 

Now Sig is up against something larger than a 30-foot swell - the multi-billion dollar proposed Pebble Mine project north of Bristol Bay, Alaska - home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs.  As part of the Renewable Resources Coalition‘s anti-Pebble campaign, Sig and his crew are appearing in print and TV ads in an attempt to bring this issue to a national audience.  Sig known more for his crab-fishing exploits, often runs a tender boat in Bristol Bay in the summer months, so for him, protecting Bristol Bay waters is a no-brainer.  There aren’t any ads available to view yet, but when they come out, we’ll post them here.  In the meantime, read the article from the Anchorage Daily News HERE.