By Martha Jacobson
November 21, 2009
Regarding the Ketchikan Daily News editorial about eating your salmon in Seattle without the restaurant owner sharing views on the Pebble Mine - the issue is way more complicated than narrowing it down to some restaurant chef's political views. Way more!
What I as an Alaskan am concerned about, is exposing our massive wild salmon runs which as you know are the linchpin of this State, to foreign mining interests. This international mining consortium, including Mitsubishi, Rio Tinto, Northern Dynasty, and Anglo American, plans to build North America's largest gold and copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The only way to extract the low-grade ore from the area is to use a brutal and pollution-prone technique known as hard-rock mining, which includes powerful explosives and massive drilling equipment. At one of the proposed mines in Pebble, a roadless area sandwiched between two national parks, spongy, lake-studded tundra would be scraped away, leaving a gaping two-mile-wide, 2000 foot deep pit. This would be the largest open pit mine in the world - wide enough to line up end to end nine cruise ships and deep enough to swallow the Empire State Building. At a second mine, explosives would be used to create a series of underground cave-ins to extract the ore.
A study of hard-rock mining has shown that 85% of mines like Pebble pollute their surrounding waters. This water area is currently thick with salmon every spring and summer. Pebble's proposed mining operations would create more than 9 billion tons of waste, including cyanide, sulfuric acid, arsenic and selenium - all toxic. The waste would be held behind massive earthen dams, all of them taller than China's Gorges dam and the mine sits in an earthquake-prone area, just 20 miles from the Lake Clark fault.
While an accident here would be disastrous, rivaling the Exxon Valdez spill, even normal mining operations would harm salmon and the wildlife they support. Salmon are acutely sensitive to pollution - an increase of just 2-10 parts per billion of copper dust in water can interfere with a salmon's ability to navigate. At least 60 miles of salmon habitat would be destroyed as mining operations extracted 70 million gallons of fresh water every day from rivers and streams. A proposed 86 mile road connecting the port to the mine will cross 120 streams creating barriers to spawning fish. Dust from the mine would not only harm fish but wash into Iliamna Lake, home to one of only two freshwater harbor seals in the world.
There is good reason to question whether the corporations involved can even be trusted. The international mining consortium Anglo American, which has a 50% interest in Pebble, has an abysmal environmental and civil rights record. The company has been accused of abusing local people in developing countries in which it works, and numerous safety, public health and environmental problems have been reported at its mining operations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Mali, Ireland and Nevada.
Mitsubishi, another company with an interest in the Pebble Mine tried to build a massive salt mine in 2000 on the shores of a gray whale nursery in Mexico's Laguna San Ignacio. They failed. Once again this company is threatening whale habitat.
Those restaurant owners in Seattle may be just looking out for their business, by serving tables of customers, salmon with a sermon, but when I sit down to a salmon dinner at my house, I believe while the price of gold may be high right now, our salmon, grizzlies, wolves, eagles, beluga whales and orcas may end up paying the ultimate price if this mining plan goes through. We need to protect the true gold of Alaska: its fish and wildlife.
Received November 20, 2009 - Published November 21, 2009
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