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OPINION: Tell EPA "Just Say No" to Pebble Mine

June 22nd, 2012 | Kimberly Williams Print this article   Email this article  

For at least the last 50,000 years, the salmon have returned to southwest Alaska on their annual pilgrimage from the ocean to the rivers and streams of Bristol Bay, supporting subsistence and commercial fishermen alike.

Everyone that lives or works here knows the threat the proposed Pebble Mine poses to our fishing way of life? Last month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a long-awaited study on the suitability of large-scale mining in Bristol Bay that confirmed our fears? This important scientific study concluded that large-scale mining is a threat to the long-term productivity and sustainability of the fishery?

Until July 23, the public has the chance to weigh in on the EPA's study. This is a key moment in the decision-making process for us to make our voices heard. I urge fellow readers to publicly comment on the mine during the 60-day comment period. The EPA has the authority to restrict the disposal of mine waste if it presents a significant threat to Bristol Bay salmon and the people and businesses that depend on them.

And it is not a matter of if the mine would impact water quality and salmon habitat, but when - and how severely. Under routine operation, the mine footprint alone would result in the direct loss of up to 87 miles of streams and 4,200 acres of wetlands - important salmon habitat? Evidence from similar large mines suggests that over the lifespan of a large mine, failures will occur. Pipeline failures and water collection and treatment failures — these things are expected to occur, even after the mine closes, releasing highly toxic material into the watershed.

Not only would the proposed mine involve blasting and digging in the middle of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, but it would generate billions of tons of acid-generating toxic mine waste. The EPA report concludes it would be virtually impossible to keep the contaminated seepage from entering the water systems even under the best of conditions. Large copper sulfide mines are notorious for polluting waters while they are in operation, leaving the area toxic long after they are gone.

The State has asked for a 120-day extension to the comment period. But the current 60-day window is enough time for the public to comment on a study. If the EPA moves forward with the 404c, another public comment and hearing process will ensue. An extension now is not necessary.

The Yup'ik and Dena'ina 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 jobs. Why would we want to trade a sustainable resource of wild salmon for a few decades of production from the Pebble Mine and the potential for water pollution long after the mine closes?

The EPA hearings throughout Bristol Bay last week highlight the overwhelming regional support for the watershed assessment - with over 90 percent of the total testimony from all six communities (Dillingham, Naknek, Igiugig, Levelock, New Stuyahok, and Nondalton) in support of the EPA's study.

The EPA analysis provides a solid scientific case for using their authority to stop the Pebble project and ensure the long-term productivity and sustainability of the Bristol Bay fishery. A strong statement of public sentiment against the proposal could have a significant bearing on how the EPA proceeds on this matter.

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery is a global resource that helps to feed the world? It is no place for a massive mine. We are fishermen. Not miners. And we are unwilling to put a renewable resource at risk for a nonrenewable one. So what do we want, water treatment in perpetuity or salmon in perpetuity?

To read the study, go to:

To comment, send an email to

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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