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Feds' Approval of AK Mine Raises Concerns for Salmon, Environment

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The sockeye salmon runs of Bristol Bay, Alaska, are world-renowned. (BB Armstrong/The Nature Conservancy)
The sockeye salmon runs of Bristol Bay, Alaska, are world-renowned. (BB Armstrong/The Nature Conservancy)
August 7, 2020

SEATTLE - Conservation, tribal and fishing groups are condemning the Army Corps of Engineers' recommendation to permit the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The groups said the open-pit mine operation would have dire consequences for some the world's most productive salmon streams.

Steve Cohn, director of The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, said the Army Corps' final Environmental Impact Statement did not adequately evaluate the project.

"There are a number of factors at play that just make this the wrong mine in the wrong place," said Cohn. "It's an extremely wet environment, seismically active. It's a proposed mine that straddles three watersheds and it's a globally significant ecosystem."

The Army Corps' final analysis said the mine would not cause significant harm to the watershed. More than half of the world's sockeye salmon come from Bristol Bay.

The mine has implications for the entire Northwest. The salmon industry generates $493 million a year in the region.

Norman Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, said all the major salmon processors are headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Seattle, and Bristol Bay draws workers.

"Probably close to two-thirds of the participants that are fisherman harvesters call the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Oregon, their home," said Van Vactor.

Local tribes said they also feel their concerns about the project have been ignored. Gayla Hoseth, director of natural resources at the Bristol Bay Native Association, said the mine hasn't been permitted yet, but is already affecting the tribal members in the area.

"You really enjoy the moment that you are in for the 'right now,' but you always have Pebble Mine in the back of your head - of, 'We don't ever want this to go away, that this area has to be protected,'" said Hoseth.

The Army Corps will make its final decision on issuing a permit in the fall. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Association and The Nature Conservancy said they want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject the Clean Water Act permit for the mine.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy of Washington contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA