Ripples from the Pebble
Wrong mine, wrong place
What: What: Bristol Bay Pint and Action Night
When: 5 pm Fri., Apr. 12
Where: K2 Brewery, 1538 Kentucky St.
Filmmaker Mark Titus will talk about his work and the proposed Pebble Mine
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
“We live in a time of uncertainty—about the trajectory of our own lives, the lives of generations to come and the continued health of the planet we live on. For millennia, wild salmon have survived ice ages, continental shifts and most destructively, human beings. Their continued existence provides a glint of hope under the surface of malaise we now find ourselves in,” writes documentary filmmaker Mark Titus.
“When wild salmon return to their home rivers to spawn and die, their bodies are a sacrament—giving life to their progeny, the earth itself and human beings. Their last act ensures that life will continue.”
That continuation and affirmation may be in serious jeopardy under plans to expand Pebble Mine. Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian mining company, seeks to place the largest open pit mine in the world at the headwaters of the largest sockeye run in the world.
“The proposed Pebble Mine project to be located at the headwaters of the Nushugak River in Bristol Bay is the wrong mine in the wrong place,” asserts Michael Jackson, a Bellingham fisherman who, along with many others, sets drift nets there each season. “Bristol Bay set a record for returning sockeye salmon in 2018. More than 62 million fish returned, representing the largest run ever in the recorded history of Bristol Bay—that is ever with a capital ‘E.’”
Every year, an average of 37.5 million wild sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, making up nearly half of the world’s supply of sockeye salmon. Salmon are the economic, cultural and ecological linchpin of the region, supporting a wild salmon fishery that generates nearly $480 million in direct economic expenditures and employs 14,000 workers, a traditional native subsistence lifestyle, and vibrant wildlife. The proposed Pebble Mine would destroy as many as 94 miles of streams, devastate as much 5.35 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes, and harm a native lifestyle dependent on subsistence fishing.
“This is a scientific indictment of the Pebble Mine—or any other large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed,” says Joel Reynolds, western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, of a recent environmental impact statement released for the mine project. “The assessment documents what we’ve feared for years—Pebble Mine would destroy the world-class wild salmon fishery, cost jobs and endanger the communities and wildlife that depend on it.”
By dismantling safeguards the EPA had enacted to protect the salmon, water and people of Bristol Bay, the current political regime in the United States has revived a mining corporation’s pursuit to build North America’s largest open-pit copper mine—directly in the headwaters of the most prodigious wild sockeye salmon run in the world.
“Bristol Bay watershed residents not only make a living from the fishery, they make a life,” Jackson says. “They are able to maintain a subsistence lifestyle that has been in existence for centuries, that has allowed their native culture to maintain the same ability to harvest salmon just as their grandparents did, and theirs before them. They too spend their fishing income supporting their local economy.
“What does the proposed Pebble Mine project bring?” Jackson asks. “Tens of millions of lobbying dollars spent in Washington D.C. to sway decision-makers that this time, in this place, with their engineering team, this time the mine won’t fail. The same tailings dam design team was responsible for Mt. Polley tailings dam failure in British Columbia.”
In 2014, the Mount Polley gold and copper mine tailings pond failed, emptying into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake, and Cariboo River. A toxic cocktail of selenium, arsenic and other metals contaminated some of the most pristine waters in the world.
“A Pebble Mine Tailings Failure study was recently concluded and presented at town halls in Anchorage and Homer,” Jackson relates. “The study includes a slide set with time-stamped animation of the results of a failure. Catastrophic. In places, a 30-foot-tall wall of toxic sludge would coat the tundra with poison that would be released every time it rains for another dose of toxin into the environment—devastation that will last for centuries, destroying centuries of nature and culture thriving in pristine habitat.
“More than 8,000 fishing families make their living from the sockeye fishery,” Jackson says. “Many of these live in the Bellingham area, and throughout the state of Washington. We bring millions of dollars of income back into our local economies, supporting local businesses throughout the year. But we are not alone in our support of local economies.”
There’s still time to comment on and influence the Pebble Mine proposal. Learn more.
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