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WA Fishermen Protest Mining Plans for Alaska's Bristol Bay



May 31, 2012

SEATTLE - Washington fishermen and sportsmen are expected to crowd a hearing in Seattle today to consider an area 1,600 miles away - Alaska's Bristol Bay - and voice concerns about a proposal for what would be the largest open-pit mine in North America.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says construction and operation of such a large-scale mine would destroy at least 55 miles of Alaska rivers, turn lakes into waste-storage ponds and affect thousands of acres of wetlands.

Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations, says Northwest fishermen have a big stake in the outcome.

"About 30 percent of the permit-holders who fish for sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay come from Washington and Oregon. The whole resource there supports about 14,000 fishing and other water-use-related jobs."

The Seattle hearing is the only one to be held outside of Alaska. It is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Jackson Federal Bldg., 902 Second Ave. Comments also may be filed online at www.regulations.gov.

Nic Callero, regional outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, says the EPA added the Seattle hearing after pressure from conservation, fishing and tribal groups, as well as Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell. The EPA has the authority under the Clean Water Act to stop a mining project of this size, although pressure is also strong to extract gold and copper from the Bristol Bay area. But Callero asks, "At what cost?"

"Large-scale mines are not worth sacrificing a sustainable fishery, the rich wildlife and the native cultures that call Bristol Bay home."

The EPA wants comments on its Draft Ecological Risk Assessment of mining in the Bristol Bay watershed. The report is available online. It does not mention the name of the proposed Pebble Mine or the group that is developing it.

The Pebble Partnership says it will spend more than $100 million of its own money to study the environmental impact and prepare a permit application for the mine.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA