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Pebble could become a landslide

The proposed, infamous Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay Alaska has been back in the news again. The Alaska Fisheries Board was asked this week to consider creation of a large state refuge to for the protection of Bristol Bay salmon.

For a bit of background, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., a Canadian mining conglomerate has proposed North America’s largest open pit copper and gold mine in the headwaters of two rivers that drain into Bristol Bay. The proposal would create an 896 square-mile mining district in the watershed that supports the world’s largest remaining commercial salmon fishery. The area is home to a 120,000 caribou of the Mulchatna herd as well as large populations of wolves, moose and bear. The company proposes five dams. Two of the dams would be the largest earth-filled dams in the world at more than 700 feet high and several miles long to store tailings and other toxic waste. The earthen dams would be larger than Hoover or Grand Coulee and they would be located in one of the world’s most active seismic areas. In Montana, we are acutely aware of the legacy of such mines. In 1975, a dam at the closed Mike Horse mine in the upper Blackfoot storing a million cubic yards of toxic mining waste, failed killing all fish and aquatic life along ten miles of the Blackfoot drainage. This dam was extremely tiny compared to the Pebble proposal. We also have such problems with the Troy Mine and Zortman-Landusky and others where safeguards were considered to be sufficient when permits were issued. A major spill in the Bristol Bay watershed could be an environmental nightmare of truly catastrophic proportions.

A recent poll of local residents found that 79% believe that the mine would damage the salmon fishery. Only 8% of respondents support the mine, that is 2/3 fewer than support oil and gas drilling. Most felt that the mine would damage their subsistence lifestyle and that a majority of mining jobs would go to outsiders as has happened in the North Slope oil fields. In a letter to the mining officials, local residents reminded them that, they had have stated that they would not pursue the mine if it did not have the support of local communities.

We are consistently asked to trust the process and wait for the plan of operations, but at what point will Anglo American trust that the people of Bristol Bay won’t risk our fishery for this prospect? We know that this type of massive mineral development is incompatible with the preservation of the fish and wildlife habitat of Bristol Bay. With that in mind, we ask you to keep your stated commitment to forego development of the Pebble Mine given the ongoing community opposition. We call on Anglo American to join us in protecting Alaska’s irreplaceable fishery and pristine waters and to relinquish it’s interest in the Pebble Project.

The Alaska Fisheries Board did not rule on Saturday in favor of the fisheries refuge on the Nushagak and Kvichak river drainages, but they did decide “to send a letter to state legislators asking them to consider more regulatory protection for salmon in the Bristol Bay river drainages downstream of the proposed Pebble mine.”

“What harm is there in asking for additional protection when we all know that so many projects around the world have caused so much environmental harm, even in the face of regulations and statutes that provided at the time, to everybody’s belief, adequate safeguards?” said Anchorage resident Karl Johnstone, the board’s vice chair.

Make no mistake, the Pebble Mine proposal is all about corporate profit, not about protecting the environment or providing jobs. The mining companies take no risk in destroying the Bristol Bay watershed. In their 2004 Annual Report, American Dynasty made that abundantly clear with this statement,

Northern Dynasty’s Management May Not Be Subject to U.S. Legal Process. As Canadian citizens and residents certain of Northern Dynasty’s directors and officers may not subject themselves to U.S. legal proceedings, so that recovery on judgments issued by U.S. courts may be difficult or impossible.”

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