We were pleased to see Sen. Mark Begich’s comments about the EPA’s watershed assessment for Bristol Bay during his recent visit to Homer.
While many of our elected officials in Alaska and Washington, D.C., have taken an ill-informed, uncompromising stance against the watershed assessment, Sen. Begich’s comments represent a rational approach in line with the vast majority of his constituents.
As a quick refresher, the EPA is studying Bristol Bay at the request of tribes, commercial fishermen and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. The EPA launched a thorough, fair and science-based process that began more than 18 months ago. Around the state, thousands of people — tribal leaders, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, lodge owners and more — feel like their voices are being heard for the first time.
Since launching its study, the EPA has met extensively with experts in the area and produced a draft document on the complex environment surrounding the proposed Pebble mine. In short, the assessment says a mega mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay would threaten the world’s greatest sockeye salmon runs.
It found that Pebble mine would be 20 times larger than all the mines in Alaska combined. Those nine miles of dams would hold back 10 billion tons of toxic tailings and would need to last forever and withstand strong earthquakes.
It’s clear the risks of Pebble mine are too great. While mining is a key economic driver in the state, the study shows it has no place in Bristol Bay. As Sen. Begich’s comments in Homer would suggest, the EPA has the rare opportunity to provide input and guidelines to a mine developer before it spends millions of dollars on a project that science could prove unable to coexist with the Bristol Bay fishery and jobs that rely on it.
This would seem to be a prudent way to address a controversial issue that will have serious ramifications for Alaska.
Sen. Begich’s comments are especially important considering the state Legislature’s recent push to ease mining regulations, which would provide the foreign mining companies behind Pebble with a clear path to move forward with the project unchecked. The EPA’s approach is the only way to ensure that Bristol Bay and its world class fishery is protected from the dangers presented by the Pebble mine.
The senator’s words are uplifting and show his clear willingness to be the strong leader that Alaska’s tribes, sportsmen and commercial fishermen have been waiting for. Only one in three Alaskans support the Pebble project, and it’s time for someone to take this message back to Washington, D.C.
The EPA must be told to quickly finalize its watershed assessment and determine the necessity of the Clean Water Act. The longer they delay, the more uncertainty it creates for all the industries and individuals that rely on Bristol Bay.
Brett Veerhusen was born in Homer and operates the F/V Finnegan out of Dillingham. Will Bishop, Brett’s uncle, lives in Homer and operates a setnet operation in Coffee Point where he employs his two children, both recent Homer High School graduates.