By Chris Cocoles
SEATTLE – Chilly temperatures greeted a hearty group of an estimated 150 fishermen and community members attending Thursday’s Stop Pebble Mine rally at the Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Among several speakers who took the podium was Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell (D), who has penned a letter headed to President Obama in Washington pleading to kill the proposed mining operation that could affect Bristol Bay’s rich salmon fishery and the 14,000 jobs it supports.
“We’re certainly sending a letter today, and we’re emphasizing the regional economic importance of the salmon industry to Washington State and to the larger region, and asking (the president) to take action to protect it,” said Cantwell, who was then asked if she was frustrated with the lack of a public statement from the president on this matter.
“Well, this (Environmental Protection Agency) report just came out last week, and obviously there’s a lot going on. We certainly want to sharpen the focus of the administration that this is an important economic issue, and a vital one for everyone.”
You can read Cantwell’s full letter to Obama here, but she wrote in part:
“I write you today to urge your Administration to use its authority to safeguard the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, and keep them protected from devastating mining pollutants. Washington state’s maritime economy is worth more than $30 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 148,000 jobs. Recent scientific evidence shows that pollutants from the proposed development of large scale mining near Bristol Bay would irreversibly harm this vital salmon habitat and put in danger Washington’s entire maritime economy.”
“I think the important thing is we forced the science to be done,” Cantwell said after the rally. “A lot of people I think were thinking, ‘Let’s wait until a later point in time.’ But this industry, here in Ballard, said to me this is too important an issue to wait and see what happens when it’s millions of dollars through the process. It’s going to cause a problem; let’s realize that right now. And I think that scientific study that was done really helped crystallize that.”
On her reaction to last week’s lengthy EPA findings, Cantwell said: “I was kind of shocked that a (mining) proposal like this would be proposed given the economic impact and the dangers of that material to something as critical as a vital watershed for salmon. When you look at the information, you are shocked that anyone would propose such a thing. I think the science was a very long process and thought out. And that’s what’s important about science is to do that homework. It’s pretty indicting of the notion that anybody should propose something on that scale on that headwater.”
Local chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas is spearheading a campaign of more than 250 chefs who also plan to put the full-court press on the Obama administration to block the proposal led by mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.
“We have 800 co-workers who use salmon as their living, and we are so proud of that,” Douglas said.
One of the most impassioned speeches Thursday came from Alannah Hurley of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay; she is a Yup’ik Eskimo who is a subsistence fisher and a commercial set netter.
“The EPA watershed assessment said it loud and clear: If our salmon are harmed in Bristol Bay, it will devastate the nutritional, the social and the spiritual health of our people. I don’t have to think about that very hard because they are referring to me. They are referring to my neighbors,” she said.
“The pro-mine folks say mining and salmon can coexist. All of us here today know that is not possible. The science of the assessment proves that this type development of within our watershed will devastate it. And therefore, it will devastate people like you and me who rely on it.”
Local fisherman Brett Veerhusen spoke for his colleagues who attended the rally, He is one of thousands of Pacific Northwest commercial fishermen and sport anglers who work Bristol Bay’s waters
“I think what’s really brought this attention, is the Bristol Bay fishery provides 14,000 jobs nationwide. And what we’ve been able to do is rally fisherman across the country and get them to understand how important it is to protect our natural resources. And we’ve been able to put a lot of pressure by educating and doing outreach with other fishermen nationwide,” Veerhusen said
“We’re not against mining. This is just the wrong mine in the wrong place. We don’t need the gold that bad.”