Letter: Be aware: comment now

Be aware: comment on Pebble plan now

The opportunity to examine Pebble’s phase one mine plan recently filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did nothing to alleviate my concerns when it comes to this extremely large and remarkably short-sighted undertaking.

With infrastructure that impacts close to 15 square miles of the Bristol Bay region and over 4,000 acres of wetlands, and the prospect for future expansion if Pebble obtains the permits to build this initial phase of the mine, the plan far exceeds the 1,200 acres evaluated by the EPA in its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In that Assessment, an extremely in-depth, peer-reviewed study, it was concluded that a mine of this size, situated at the very heart of the world’s most prolific sockeye salmon fishery, would cause irreparable harm to the unique ecosystem, as well as the economy and the lifestyle of those who depend upon it.

Even if the proposed Pebble mine was limited to the scale contemplated by the application submitted by Pebble in December and no future expansion occurred (which is a huge ‘if’), the footprint is still gigantic in terms of the destruction it would cause. Current plans include constructing an 83-mile transportation corridor that comprises roads and pipelines, which would cross more than 200 streams, many of them salmon-bearing. There are also plans for an 18-mile ferry route to shuttle mining materials across Lake Iliamna, Alaska’s largest lake and the world’s largest incubator of wild sockeye.

About 160,000 tons of mineral concentrate — requiring up to 35 round trips by truck on a dirt road and one round trip by ferry — would be transported daily. The company has proposed this new, private transportation route with very little information about the potential impacts to fisheries, wildlife, local villages, or recreation.

Here, on the Kenai Peninsula, a 188-mile-long natural gas pipeline from a new, 230-megawatt power plant would be built, including 94-miles of subsea pipeline under Cook Inlet waters, and a deep-water port on the west side of the inlet. This brings up, along with the incredible amount of new infrastructure, the issue of the massive amount of energy needed to support this project and who is going to pay for the related infrastructure. Because Pebble has not provided any sort of economic feasibility report with its permit application, we have no way of knowing whether this project can pay for itself or whether Pebble is counting on taxpayers or future expansion to foot the bill and generate profit. Is the state expected to help subsidize this energy infrastructure or these new roads? Is future expansion of the mine necessary for Pebble to turn a profit? Why would we pay for the destruction of our fisheries, while at the same time, as per their plan, send ore to foreign countries to be processed, and export the bulk of the profits from this foreign-owned project out of the country?

Perhaps most frighteningly of all, Pebble is only one company of many with claims in the area, and their current plan includes only a small fraction of the ore within the Pebble deposit. Based on their recent presentations and proclamations from company spokesmen, we know Pebble plans to expand soon after gaining a foothold. They have said as much to their stockholders. Make no mistake: this is only the beginning.

Those of us who care about sustaining our wild salmon know there is simply no other place left on the entire planet like Bristol Bay or its magnificent fisheries, which will continue to be a major economic engine for Alaska and for future generations only if we take care them. The commercial fishery and tourism industries thrive here, currently supplying 14,000 fishing-related jobs and $1.5 billion in annual, sustainable economic activity. These industries will remain for the foreseeable future, but only if we take steps to protect the waters upon which they rely now.

Don’t be duped by Pebble’s “new,” supposedly scaled-back plan. The proposed Pebble mine, and the projects that will surely follow its lead if it gets built, would cause wide-spread harm to the salmon, communities and businesses of Bristol Bay, and taint Alaska’s reputation in the process.

Fortunately, there’s still a lot we can do to ensure this ill-conceived project is never developed, and the fisheries of Bristol Bay are protected. There is an open public scoping period through the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency in charge of reviewing Pebble’s first major permit application. If you have concerns about the impacts Pebble Mine would have on the waterways, fisheries, cultures, economies, or airways of the Bristol Bay region, Cook Inlet, or the Kenai Peninsula, then I urge you to participate.

To comment go to www.pebbleprojecteis.com.


Steve Schoonmaker