Investigate Bristol Bay mine developer, Cantwell tells SEC

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should immediately investigate “potential discrepancies” in materials filed by a Canadian company that wants to build the world’s largest hard-rock mine between two of the most productive salmon spawning rivers feeding Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Debate over the project has roused Seattle’s fisheries and restaurant communities.  Bristol Bay produces roughly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, valued at nearly $500 million a year, and supports more than 14,000 fisheries and processing jobs including some in Washington.  Bristol Bay also supports a big recreational fishery and supports a multi-million-dollar subsistence harvest.

The company is Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, although the British-based Anglo-American conglomerate has a 50 percent stake in the proposed Pebble Mine.

“Specifically, Northern Dynasty may have provided inaccurate information regarding potential mine specifications and other aspects of their project to mislead investors, many of whom live in my state, and in their filing documents at the SEC,” Cantwell wrote to SEC Chairman Elisse Walter.

At issue is the “Wardrop Report”, submitted by Northern Dynasty to the SEC early in 2011 to fulfill legal requirements.  “Northern Dynasty subsequently informed the SEC and investors that the proposed Pebble Mine design and specifications are feasible and permittable in a press release from 2011 that is also currently on file with your agency,” Cantwell wrote Walter.

The Northern Dynasty report was then used by the Environmental Protection Agency in conducting a draft watershed assessment, examining what impact a giant mine would have on one of the world’s greatest and most productive fisheries.

The EPA’s Region X (Seattle-based) office last May released a draft assessment detailing potentially devastating impacts should anything go wrong at the mine.

“The Pebble deposit, the most likely site for near-term, large-scale mining development in the region, is located at the intersection of the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds,” the EPA’s scientists reported.

“Eliminated or blocked streams under the minimum or maximum mine footprint would result in the loss of 55 to 87.5 miles of possible spawning or rearing habitats for coho, Chinook and sockeye salmon, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden,” added their draft report.

The report used non-scientific language to explain why Bristol Bay is one of the world’s great fisheries resources.

The “exceptional quality of Bristol Bay watersheds’ fisheries populations” comes largely as a result that streams are “untouched by human engineering structures and flow management controls,” the EPA wrote in its extensive analysis of the project’s potential impacts.

The mining industry has attacked the EPA draft assessment.  Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, long in the pocket of the mining, oil and lumber industries, has attacked the EPA for getting involved in the first place.  It was Cantwell who originally asked the federal agency to investigate potential impacts on Bristol Bay fisheries, using its authority under the Clean Water Act.

In responding to the EPA, however, Northern Dynasty Minerals in formal testimony referred to the Waldrop Reform as a “fantasy proposal.”

“This contradictory use of the Wardrop Report is extremely concerning as it is unclear whether Northern Dynasty Minerals is misleading investors by attracting investment for a “fantasy proposal” or it is intentionally providing fraudulent testimony to the EPA,” Cantwell said in her letter.