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Environment: EPA to take hard look at impacts of proposed open pit mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Agency likely to restrict mining activities based on concerns about impacts to salmon fishery, other resources

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Proposed Alaska mine gets careful EPA scrutiny.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — A proposed mine in coastal Alaskan waters would spread across an area larger than Manhattan and jeopardize the health and sustainability of one of the world’s great salmon fisheries, the EPA said this week, releasing a draft version of its plan for protecting aquatic resources in Bristol Bay from a vast open pit mine.

According to the EPA, the proposed mine in its present form would have unacceptable impacts on Bristol Bay natural resources. As a result, the agency’s draft lays out common sense rules and guidelines that would ensure the integrity of those resources by prohibiting the discharge of any mining materials into critically important waters of the U.S.

Release of the draft triggers a public comment period and also elicited positive feedback from Trout Unlimited, a fisheries advocacy group that has been watch-dogging the mine proposal.

“For 10 years, the proposed Pebble Mine has cast a cloud of uncertainty on Bristol Bay. Today’s announcement provides hope that we are nearing the finish line to protecting the world’s most prolific salmon fishery,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

“Two of Bristol Bay’s rivers would be most affected by the proposed Pebble Mine. One provides nearly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and is the best rainbow trout fishery in the world. The other is consistently among the top three producers in king salmon. It would be difficult to conceive a worst place to put an open-pit mine with 700-foot-tall earthen dams holding back its toxic tailings than in the seismically active Bristol Bay region.”

During the comment period, there will be hearings in the Bristol Bay region and Anchorage to provide ample opportunity for Alaskans to weigh in on the draft determination. After which, the EPA will review public input and release a recommended determination to “withdraw, prohibit, deny or restrict” mining within the proposed Pebble Mine area.

Here’s how the EPA described the resources in Bristol Bay:

“Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed is an area of unparalleled ecological value, boasting salmon diversity and productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. As a result, the region is a globally significant resource with outstanding value. The Bristol Bay watershed provides intact, connected habitats—from headwaters to ocean—that support abundant, genetically diverse wild Pacific salmon populations. These salmon populations, in turn, maintain the productivity of the entire ecosystem, including numerous other fish and wildlife species …

“Because no hatchery fish are raised or released in the watershed, Bristol Bay’s salmon populations are entirely wild. Bristol Bay is remarkable as one of the last places on Earth with such bountiful and sustainable harvests of wild salmon.”

 

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