Connelly: Sen. Cantwell on study of giant Alaska mine -- Let us in!!

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F/V Exito crewmen Lee Fleury prepares to throw the grappling hook at a crab pot buoy off in the distance while Lyndon Yockey, rear, runs the hydraulics to manuever heavy crab pots to be stacked onboard.

By Joel Connelly, Seattle PI Published Friday, June 1, 2018

Pacific Northwest fishermen, shipbuilders, suppliers and restaurants must be heard as the Army Corps of Engineers puts together an environmental impact statement on a big proposed mine in Alaska, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has told the Corps.

The Pebble Mine would be built between two of Bristol Bay's major salmon spawning streams, which are part of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.  An estimated 51 million salmon are expected to return this year.

The Corps has scheduled nine pubic scoping meetings, all of them in Alaska.  Opposition has been intense not only in the 49th State -- the Bristol Bay Native Corp. is a major critic -- but among Washington boat operators and fish processors.

"There are no public meetings scheduled in Washington State," Cantwell said in a letter to the Corps.  "This expedited process is grossly inefficient, and does not allow my constituents the opportunity to participate in the permitting process in person."

The proposed mine appears on its last legs during the Obama administration.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in an exhaustive study, laid out how miles of spawning habitat that would be ruined, catastrophic consequences of any breach in the proposed tailing dam, and disruption of a pristine, vastly productive corner of Alaska. 

As well, major mining conglomerates withdrew from the project.  Major jewelers, from Ben Bridge in Seattle to Tiffany in New York, pledged not to use metals from the mine.

The developers of the proposed mine sued the EPA, which had moved to block the mine under the Clean Water Act.

The Trump administration "settled" the suit by letting the permitting process go ahead. Cantwell is worried at who is being shut out.

"Pacific Northwest fishermen, shipbuilders, suppliers, sportsmen and restaurants have built an economy around this one of a kind sustainable fishery," she told the Corps.

"The commercial sockeye fishery is valued at $1.5 billion in annual economic output, including $500 million in direct income.  Bristol Bay supports 12,000 commercial fisheries jobs and another 10,000 salmon-related industry jobs across the United States, including thousands of jobs in Washington state."

The Corps has yet to respond to the letter.

(SeattlePI.com writer Joel Connelly can be reached at joelconnelly@seattlepi.com)