Sen. Cantwell against Alaska’s Pebble Mine, threat to salmon

By:  Steve Wilhelm
Source: Puget Sound Business Journal

Seattle-area fishing industry opponents of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska flanked Sen. Maria Cantwell at a press event Wednesday, expressing concern that the gold mine could damage Washington state’s salmon industry.

The event, at Seattle's Fishermen’s Terminal, preceded a Seattle public hearing on the mine by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday and a series of hearings in Alaska June 4 through 7.

The Northwest’s biggest salmon source is Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which is downhill from the mine. Cantwell said Bristol Bay salmon runs support a $500 million industry, about $113 million of that in Washington, and “thousands” of Washington jobs.

Plans for the mine have been underway for nearly a decade, and have spawned many opposition groups.

The area supposedly contains 27 million ounces of gold, but extracting it would require excavating a 1,300-acre pit and a 3,600-acre reservoir for mining by-products and rock, according to EPA documents cited by Cantwell.

In her comments, Cantwell said that the runoff and contamination from the mine could damage the salmon runs, while public perception of contamination could undercut the market for Alaska wild salmon, which competes against farmed fish from Chile and elsewhere.

The EPA could stop the mine if it determines the project would violate the Clean Water Act, she said.

“We want them to protect the fishing industry in the Northwest, and all the ancillary businesses based on catching wild salmon,” she said about the EPA's role. “I want to make sure the EPA takes into consideration in the final assessment the impact on our jobs and our economy.”

Even rumors of salmon contamination could make a big dent in the market for the fish, because consumers for high-end wild salmon are very concerned about purity, said Norman Van Vactor, general manager of Leader Creek Fisheries in Seattle.

He spoke during the press conference before returning to Alaska.

“The impact on Washington state and Puget Sound, the ramifications are really significant,” he said in an interview later. ‘“There’s no question that consumer perceptions of the mine, or of pollutant-tainted waters, would have a negative impact.”