by Shoren Brown
Bristol Bay’s commercial fishing season is underway, with a strong forecast for a harvest of nearly 22 million sockeye this year. The season has been open since June 1, although the wave of fish is slow to arrive in numbers yet. Fish Information&Services provides district by district forecast information and adds: “The EPA’s research shows that this process would pose a significant threat to the long-term health of the watersheds that support the salmon fishery.”
Kimberly Williams, head of Native group Nunamta Aulukestai, authors an opinion piece in The Bristol Bay Times urging people to comment on the EPA’s watershed assessment before the July 23 deadline. She writes: “And it is not a matter of if the mine would impact water quality and salmon habitat, but when - and how severely. Under routine operation, the mine footprint alone would result in the direct loss of up to 87 miles of streams and 4,200 acres of wetlands - important salmon habitat. Evidence from similar large mines suggests that over the lifespan of a large mine, failures will occur.”
Mining consultant and civil engineer Jack Caldwell shares a controversial, insider view on tailings dam failure in the industry. On his mining blog, Caldwell points out numerous causes of failure at these waste storage lagoons. In addition to mining companies falling on hard economic times and then inadequately monitoring their tailings facilities, he cited instances where colleagues disclosed failure to report problems with tailings dams, design flaws of dams, lack of adequate personnel for oversight and more.
Caldwell writes: “The point of all this, in my opinion, is that the statistics of tailings facility failure underestimate probabilities by a factor of two to ten. We simply do not get all the data. We do not record the failures and we do not document the lesson learnt. We are victims of the miner’s lawyers and the need to prop up share value.”
A letter writer tells the Anchorage Daily News that despite attempts to paint action on Pebble as “premature,” that with its thousands of holes of exploratory drilling, its direct mail pieces to people in the region, and more, Pebble is clearly a project in motion. She says the EPA is doing its job by assessing Bristol Bay’s watershed. “This is no hypothetical project. State officials should grasp the real bigger picture,” writes Anne McPeck Gabler.
Shoren Brown is the Save Bristol Bay campaign director for Trout Unlimited.