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In brief: Impact statement paves way for mining operation in Bristol Bay

UPDATED: Wed., July 29, 2020

On July 23, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Pebble Mine, a large-scale gold and copper mine proposed for the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, the largest sockeye salmon run on the planet.

The Corps’ conclusions in the FEIS are largely the same as the Draft EIS, paving the way for the mine. Under normal operations, the Corps wrote, the project would not result in “long-term changes in the health of the commercial fisheries in Bristol Bay.”

Alaska’s Bristol Bay salmon fishery supports 14,000 jobs a year and generates $1.5 billion in annual economic output.

State and federal experts have repeatedly critiqued the adequacy of the environmental review. The Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure recently called for a delay in the release of the FEIS due to the Corp’s failure to properly consult with Tribes. Last month, the Corps announced a last-minute switch of the recommended transportation route, a move that U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) called “troubling.” The route crosses lands owned by Bristol Bay Native Tribes and Corporations, which have notified the company access will not be granted.

“With a wink and an under-the-table handshake, Pebble is asking the U.S. Army Corps to issue a foot-in-the-door permit for a fake mine that is only a fraction of the one it intends to build,” SalmonState executive director Tim Bristol said.

Even with these substantial flaws, the FEIS predicts irreparable impacts to Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed, including harm to more than 191 miles of streams and 4,641 acres of wetlands under Phase 1, with 185 miles of rivers and streams and 3,841 acres of wetlands facing permanent harm. Now that the final environmental review has been publicly released, the Army Corps of Engineers is required to issue a formal decision on the proposed mine (the Record of Decision) no earlier than 30 days after the FEIS.

For more than a decade, the mine has been widely opposed by a broad coalition, including Bristol Bay Native Tribes, commercial fishermen, jewelry retail companies, restaurants, supermarkets, chefs, churches, conservation groups hunters and anglers, tourism and recreation businesses, outfitters, and a strong majority of Alaskans.

“The Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery is a phenomenal natural resource that will continue to power the economy and feed the world as long as the clean water and intact habitat of the watershed is protected from large-scale mining,” said Earthworks northwest program director Bonnie Gestring.

“The Pebble Mine should have been rejected years ago because it’s simply too destructive to our nation’s most valuable wild salmon fishery,” she added. “We are not talking about minor impacts, but the wholesale destruction of over a hundred miles of rivers and streams. No other mine in North America, and perhaps the world, would have such a devastating effect on clean water.”

DNR, Lake Roosevelt enact burn bans

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz signed an order on Monday creating a statewide burn ban on all forestland under the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ fire protection. This covers 12 million acres of public and private land. The order is valid through Sept. 30, unless fire conditions improve.

The burn ban was prompted by prolonged hot, dry weather conditions across the state along with gusty winds that can spread a wildfire quickly through the now-dry grasses and forests.

Franz added that the public should wait for wetter conditions to burn yard debris or for dispersed campfires, and pay special attention to the equipment they are using on their land that could create sparks. The fire risk, she said, is growing each day due to the heat coupled with upcoming winds across Washington.

The announcement comes after a spike in wildfires over the weekend. There are four large fires burning in Washington.

The largest is the

  • Colockum Fire, near Wenatchee, which
    • has burned 3,337 acres. Approximately, 2,305 of those acres are DNR jurisdiction. The other 1,032 acres are on Chelan County Fire District 1 jurisdiction.

    The second largest is the Anglin Fire, located just east of Tonasket, is estimated at 1,200 acres and growing.

The Greenhouse Fire, near Nespelem, has burned 5,146 acres and is at 64% containment.

TheGreen Fire, near Synarep, is at roughly 700 acres and is uncontained.

Also, the National Park Service said all fires at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area are prohibited effective 12:01 a.m., Thursday until further notice. No open flames are permitted. This includes, but is not limited to, all fires in NPS provided fire rings and boxes, shoreline fires, charcoal fires, tiki torches, incense burners, candles, and propane campfires.

Self-contained propane or gas stoves and lanterns are still allowed during the full fire ban.

For the most current information regarding the fire ban in the Recreation Area, please call (509) 754-7893.

Popular DNR parcel closed to shooting

Due to high fire danger, the Washington State DNR, working with Stevens County, temporarily closed a portion of state land to shooting beginning last Friday.

The closure of the state parcel, known locally as “Stonelodge” or “Mile Marker 19,” coincides with fire danger increasing from moderate to high in that portion of Stevens County.

The land is located off Highway 291 west of Suncrest.

Violators of the shooting closure could be subject to fines. DNR will open Stonelodge for target shooting in the fall, once fire danger drops back to moderate.

As a reminder, incendiary devices, such as exploding targets, sky lanterns or tracer ammunition, are illegal on all DNR-protected lands.

Spokane Bike Swap officially canceled

The Bike Swap team has continued to monitor the rapidly evolving situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and was hopeful to be able to reschedule the annual bike swap event to later in the summer or fall. Unfortunately, Based on the governor’s Safe Start Washington plan and recommendations from the Spokane Regional Health District, and in consideration of the safety and health of participants, volunteers and team members, this year’s Spokane Bike Swap and Expo has been canceled.

The bike swap team said it anticipates another successful event in 2021. The scheduled date is April 10 at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center.

Forest Service road work near Clark Fork

Beginning Monday, July 27, road improvement work on the Sandpoint Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests will resume on Auxor Road 489, near Clark Fork, in the Lightning Creek area. Drivers can expect short delays in most cases, but planned work could delay traffic up to 4 hours at a time.

This is a continuation of work started last summer. The project includes reconstructing approximately 8.25 miles of Auxor Road to improve the road surface and drainage, widen turnouts, construct new turnouts, and remove roadside vegetation to increase visibility. Ditches, culverts and catch basins will be cleaned, and turnaround spots at the end of the road will be improved. Work is expected to continue through Aug. 30.

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