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Report says Pebble would devastate Bristol Bay fisheries

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times

A new scientific report released by the Wild Salmon Center and Trout Unlimited says the proposed Pebble Mine would siphon as much as 35 billion gallons of fresh water out of the headwaters of Bristol Bay every year, damaging critical salmon habitat.

While this would help develop a much larger mining district, it would also endanger the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, concluded a group of researchers that includes Lance Trasky, a retired regional supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“The Bristol Bay watershed and its tributary streams are a powerhouse of wild sockeye salmon production — the very best in the world,” Trasky said. “The Pebble Mine proposal dwarfs all of the existing mines put together in Alaska and, if constructed, will have devastating consequences for salmon, as well as the wildlife and humans who depend on them.”

The report, entitled “Bristol Bay’s Wild Salmon Ecosystems and the Pebble Mine,” examines the potential impacts of the mine on the wild salmon fishery, and concludes that there is too much at stake ecologically, economically and culturally to risk development of the Pebble deposit. A summary of the report is here.

The heated discussion over whether the mine should be developed has been going on for years, with millions of dollars spent on advertising a continuous stream of arguments on why the mine should or should not be built.

The project would have a footprint covering 28 square miles of land, produce up to 10.8 billion tons of waste rock, and have up to 9 miles of dams just to impound toxic wastes produced on site.

The new report comes on the heels of an announcement from the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage of the unveiling of a massive new environmental baseline document characterizing the physical, biological and social environments of the Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet regions. That document, of some 27,000 pages, is online at www.pebbleresearch.com. A DVD that can be requested from the Pebble Partnership.

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukstai, and Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited Alaska, agree that the document is being viewed with skepticism. They issued a statement saying that the data released has done little to add information to the debate over the mine’s future.

“The known facts of this proposed project remain the same: It is a giant and diffuse sulfide ore body in a seismically active zone beneath the salmon-rich headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak drainages,” they said. “Any project to develop the ore body at Pebble puts the Bristol Bay Basin’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the region’s world-class salmon fishery, at risk.”

The data contained in the massive document has not been peer reviewed, nor are the studies replicable based on the information provided, they said. “These documents do not contain accessible data or raw data but instead the information is couched in 27,000 pages of interpretation. The format of the document disregards requests from agencies and stakeholders for data, not opinions,” they said.

The trio also was concerned that the information was bought and paid for by the Pebble Limited Partnership.

“Although they may use skilled and educated contractors to conduct the research, at the end of the day, PLP controls what studies are done, what questions get asked, and which elements of studies they want to publicize,” they said. “The material presented should be viewed as being understandably tilted in favor of development.”