Army Corps rubber stamps proposed Alaska Pebble Mine, threatening world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery

  • Published on July 27th, 2020

On July 23, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper mine and toxic waste dump proposed for the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon run on the planet. Project opponents say the Corps’ conclusions in the FEIS are “largely the same” as the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a document that scores of scientists, mining experts, Tribes, federal agencies, commercial and recreational fishermen and thousands of Alaskans blasted as “woefully inadequate.”

Army Corps rubber stamps proposed Alaska Pebble Mine, threatening world's largest sockeye salmon fishery
Bristol Bay salmon (Photo courtesy of Fly Out Media.)

By Dan Bacher

Some 7,500 people live in the Bristol Bay region, the vast majority of them Alaska Natives. For thousands of years, the primarily Yup’ik Eskimo, Alutiiq and Athabaskan tribal members of Bristol Bay have typically consumed up to 2.4 million pounds of wild salmon annually, according to SaveBristolBay.org

“With wild salmon comprising 52 percent of the average Native family’s diet, these fish and the clean water they depend on are key to survival in this remote corner of the nation’s northernmost state. Besides salmon, berries, caribou, moose, marine mammals, ptarmigan, ducks, geese and wild plants comprise the main subsistence foods for Bristol Bay residents,” according to the coalition.

“With a wink and an under the table handshake, Pebble is asking the U.S. Army Corps to issue a foot-in-the-door permit for a fake mine that is only a fraction of the one it intends to build,” said Tim Bristol, Executive Director of SalmonState, group that works to ensure that Alaska remains a place salmon and the people who depend on them thrive. “And while Pebble will claim this document is a validation of its phony plan, this project is still in the ditch.”

“The majority of Alaskans hate it, it will face broad and deep public opposition, Congressional scrutiny,  legal opposition, and a steadily- growing number of investors not interested in environmentally destructive and socially disruptive projects like Pebble. Pebble will cheer this document as a triumph but it is so poorly done and the process has angered so many,  the pushback will be like a tidal wave. Over time, we will come to see this moment as the beginning of the end for the proposed Pebble Mine,” he concluded.

“In order to best protect the land of Bristol Bay and the way of life for current and futuregenerations of BBNC shareholders, BBNC must do its part to protect the sustainable natural resources of our region,” said Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) Chairman Joe Chythlook. “Development of the Pebble Mine would threaten the Bristol Bay fishery and the world-class salmon run which has served as the heart of our subsistence lifestyle, supporting our people for generations. BBNC’s firm opposition to Pebble is consistent with the values of cultural and economic sustainability to which we hold ourselves.”

The final environmental analysis for the proposed Pebble mine shows more than 191 miles of streams and 4,614 acres of wetlands would be impacted if phase one of the proposed Pebble mine advances, with 185 miles and 3,841 acres facing permanent impacts, according to a joint statement from the Orvis Company, Trout Unlimited and Katmai Service Providers.

“Granting this permit would hand over the keys to America’s most valuable salmon fishery to a foreign-owned company with no history of successfully developing or operating a mine,” says Simon Perkins, president of The Orvis Company. “The proposed Pebble mine represents not only a direct threat to the fishery, but also a significant threat to the outdoor economy and commercial fishing industry, which so many businesses and communities in Bristol Bay and nationally rely on for financial security. If we care about American jobs, industry, environment, and culture, the only reasonable option at this point is to deny the permit.”

The Orvis Company, Trout Unlimited, Katmai Service Providers, and hundreds of other sporting businesses and organizations, along with tens of thousands of sportsmen and women, recently called on the President, and his administration, to deny the permit because of the massive impacts it would have to Bristol Bay’s fisheries and its $1.6 billion fishing industry. Additionally, the groups reiterate the scientific consensus that estimated impacts likely are “vastly underestimated due to Pebble’s incomplete mine plan and the Corps’ inadequate subsequent review.”

“The Bristol Bay region is the crown jewel of America’s fishing. It’s an economic powerhouse,” said Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited. “All we need to do to keep it intact is to have the wisdom to leave it alone.”

“This process has outlined significant destruction of critical fish habitat and it is acknowledged by the Army Corps that the likelihood of expansion is highly probable, thus making the current plan unrealistic. The document also assumes that Pebble will be able to cross private lands, which, as of now, it does not have the permission to do,” said Brian Kraft, president of Katmai Service Providers, which represents dozens of sportfishing and tourism businesses in Bristol Bay. “If this administration wants to uphold rural American jobs, then the only option is to deny this permit.”

“Sen. Murkowski, Alaska Gov. Dunleavy and Pebble executives have stated that if the fish resources will be harmed, the proposed mine should not receive a permit. Federal and state agencies have raised significant concerns over the Corps’ analysis thus far, including as recently as few months ago during review of the preliminary final Environmental Impact Statement. Many of their concerns remain unanswered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement just issued,” according to the statement.

Additionally, A 40-year study of the Bristol Bay region by the University of Washington credits the region’s healthy wild salmon fishery to ‘the portfolio effect’ in which the health of the entire system depends on the diversity and multitude of habitat in the region, and is threatened by developments like the proposed Pebble mine that chip away at intact habitat, according to the research.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its decision on the permit within the next couple months after releasing its final Environmental Impact Statement.

For more information on the Save Bristol Bay campaign and to take action go to SaveBristolBay.org or tu.org.

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.

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