Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Tailings Failings


April 1, 2019

Brumadinho, Brazil dam failure photo courtesy of TV Nacional do Brasil.

In early March the US Army Corps of Engineers notified interested parties that Pebble Limited Partnership had submitted a permit application requesting authorization to "perform work in or affect navigable waters" and to "discharge dredged or fill material."

The Pebble Partnership is still working to build an open pit mine, utilizing a "conventional drill, blast, truck and shovel" operation to extract copper, gold and molybdenum. The mine will be sited on the shore of Iliamna Lake, which feeds Bristol Bay through the Kvichak River.

The tailings produced by the mining will be contained in a series of ponds, created by earthen dams, above the level of the rivers that feed the Bristol Bay. There is concern that a breach of one of these tailings dams would do irreparable harm to the ecosystem downstream, which includes possibly the healthiest and most sustainable wild salmon fishery in the world. These concerns are not unfounded, as tailings dams fail on a regular basis.

The March 1st publication of the above-mentioned permit application coincided with the announcement that the owner of a tailings dam that collapsed in January of this year in Brazil, killing more than 180 people, had fired an auditor who refused to certify the dam.

After dismissing the original auditor, the mining company, Vale SA, hired a German certification firm, TÜV SÜD, which certified the dam in June and again in September.

A Wall Street Journal investigation has discovered that employees of both the mining company and the German certification firm were aware of dangerous conditions at the dam that collapsed, but TÜV SÜD certified the dam as safe in order to keep Vale SA as a client.

The Pebble permit mentioned at the beginning of this piece is intended to allow for a ferry and 12-inch in diameter natural gas line to cross Iliamna Lake. The permit also seeks approval to discharge 524,000 cubic yards of gravel and rip-rap for the construction of a causeway/wharf in Cook Inlet, along with another submerged natural gas line. These are initial infrastructure improvements needed to move forward on the construction of the mine.

It is not our intention, nor is it possible, to compare the possibility of a failure at the Pebble Mine with the catastrophe and loss of human life that happened in Brazil. It is our intention simply to point out that humans are fallible and imperfect, and the lifeblood of Alaska's commercial fishery is too important to risk.

The comment period for this particular permit runs through May 29th, and hearings on the permit will be held at the following times and locations. We urge our Alaska readers to attend and make your voice heard.

March 25, 2019, 3:30 P.M. – 7:00 P.M.

Bristol Bay School, Naknek, AK

March 26, 2019, 3:30 P.M. – 7:00 P.M.

Kokhanok Bingo Hall, Kokhanok, AK

March 27, 2019, 3:30 P .M. – 7:00 P.M.

Newhalen School, Newhalen, AK

March 28, 2019, 3:30 P .M. – 7:00 P.M.

Igiugig School, Igiugig, AK

March 29, 2019, 1:00 P .M. – 5:00 P.M.

New Stuyahok Community Building, New Stuyahok, AK

April 8, 2019, 3:30 P .M. – 7:00 P.M.

Tribal Center, Nondalton, AK

April 9, 2019, 4:00 P .M. – 9:00 P.M.

Dillingham High School, Dillingham, AK

April 11, 2019, 3:30 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.

Homer High School, Homer, AK

April 16, 2019, 12:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M.

Dena'ina Center, Anchorage, AK

All comments regarding Public Notice POA-2017-00271 should be sent to USACE, 645 G Street, Suite 100-921, Anchorage, AK 99501. All comments should include the Public Notice reference number listed above.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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