Proposed Alaskan mine may threaten salmon wonderland

Near the shores of vast Lake Iliamna in southern Alaska, locals are worried that a huge proposed open-pit mine at the region’s headwaters could imperil legendary salmon runs. The story is familiar enough: an economically depressed, mineral-rich area gets courted by slick mining-company officials promising jobs and little-to-no ecological damage from its proposed 14-square-mile, $1.5 billion mine complex. Stakes are high on both sides. In one corner, Northern Dynasty Mines Inc., thirsty for what’s billed as the largest gold deposit in North America and the second-largest copper deposit; in the other corner, a small Native Alaskan town subsisting primarily on the area’s fish, wary of the company’s claims but hungry for jobs. Caught somewhere in the middle is “one of the most special places for salmon anywhere,” as University of Washington biologist Thomas Quinn calls it. Ultimate approval of the mine is up to state and federal officials.