Reader: Why would we want to repeat disaster?

Letter to the Editor

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007

Gail Phillips’ Jan. 9 editorial “Don’t be alarmed by mine” tries to assure us our state has “responsible and accountable permitting system” to protect our valuable fish and wildlife populations from the proposed Pebble Mine. She is upset Alaska groups such as the Renewable Resource Coalition are trying to create a fisheries refuge in Bristol Bay region ahead of the permitting process.

I am an Alaskan in favor of responsible resource development that won’t destroy our renewable resources. I have seen the “responsible” permitting process and our ADEC statutes be destroyed by behind the scene lobbing interests.

Our state water quality regulations have been compromised when ADEC allows mixing zones so industrial wastewater can attempt to meet water quality standards in receiving waters.

It is interesting to note that at the same time Northern Dynasty was broadcasting the good news of the Pebble find, the Murkowski administration became simultaneously interested in changing our mixing zone rules to allow waste from industry into previously prohibited salmon bearing streams and rivers. Could this change have been because the Pebble mine is so close to major Salmon streams of the Upper Talarik creek and the Koktuli, Nashgak and Knichak Rivers?

Gail claims that the permitting process will serve to address all possible problems. However in Montana, nine of the 13 hard rock mines, including the Kendall and the Zortman/Landusky gold mine are causing water pollution that “was not predicted when the mines were permitted.”

“From 1982 to 1998, millions of gallons of cyanide discharged from these mines, polluting rivers, and local wells.” The Pebble Mine will not commit to cyanide free mining and its ore is high in sulfides. Sulfides exposed to air cause acid water that leaches hundreds of years after a mine is either bankrupt or closed.

The now bankrupt Zortman/Landusky mine, one of 6,000 abandoned Montana mines, is costing the public a superfund cleanup of $33 million in long-term water treatment and reclaiming costs. Northern Dynasty’s Canadian company’s 2004 annual investment report states they may not be subject to U.S. legal proceedings. Alaska should require a large bond up front to be used for large-scale cleanup costs. We also risk Cook Inlet fisheries by transporting ore slurry through Cook Inlet in unescorted tankers.

In Queensland Australia, the Mount Morgan mine caused fish die-offs in Dee River downstream from mine runoff. The gold mine shut down in 1990. Ten years after the river had been cleaned up, four acid pollution events caused by heavy rainfall re-polluted the river killing 25,000 fish.

With all the money that Northern Dynasty spends on lobbying our Legislature, it is only fair Alaska groups have the same level legislative playing field ahead of the permitting process to protect their existing livelihoods.

This mine will bring jobs and money to the state. The Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup was a large temporary boon to our economy, too. Would we really want to repeat that disaster to our fisheries for the jobs and money?

Betty Whittenberg


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