When it comes to the Pebble Mine project, most Alaskans are firmly rooted in one camp and their reasoning is based on politics, tradition and emotion.
We have heard the arguments again, and again, and again. One of the world’s biggest mines would be good for economics. But, the mine could be worse for the world’s best salmon fishery.
However, Peninsula residents now have a new lens through which to examine the Pebble Mine idea. This summer we saw our bread and butter — the Kenai River’s famous king salmon fishery — dip to a historic low.
Setnetters are skinny and broke from being beached. Fishing guides are considering other lines of work. Tourist-driven businesses took a big hit. All because the king salmon stock was so low the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided to take extreme management measures.
How we suffered.
But remember, some fish still came and it appears as if we will have enough kings in the river to have a run in the future.
However, if Pebble Mine goes wrong, if dams built to hold the tailings and wastes break or leak, the effects could devastate the Bristol Bay region.
Our economy is stable enough that if the king run is bad, it hurts but it doesn’t destroy. In Bristol Bay, for the thousands who subsistence fish and otherwise depend on those runs, it would destroy — absolutely.
Stop and consider what would happen if there were no more fish in the Kenai River and no oil in Cook Inlet. Now you’ve got the picture.
Sound like we are painting a doomsday picture here? Well, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such an impact could occur and the world’s last great salmon fishery would be lost, perhaps forever.
So is it worth 100 years of jobs and $500 billion in copper, gold and molybdenum? What value does a renewable resource such as a salmon run of Bristol’s magnitude hold?
Even if Pebble was permitted and dug, would we want it there? Forever? The largest man-made hole on the planet? Remember, what’s dug up must be placed somewhere else and monitored forever to make sure contaminates don’t leak.
Now we have many folks in big cities and in the Governor’s office protesting the EPA’s involvement in the process. They’re happy to drive on roads paid for with federal dollars, but when someone from the government starts asking a few questions, they protest.
We’d remind those Anchorage EPA protestors they have as much right to those resources as the folks on the Kenai Peninsula, in Juneau and for that matter Seattle, Chicago and New York. Why? Because if it fails, their world doesn’t change. There’s no cleanup for those folks. There’s no massive change of lifestyle and economics for them. They get up in the morning, kiss their spouse, and head to work like normal.
Not for Bristol Bay.
So, let’s listen to the people who live there.
The bottom line is Pebble, as state of the art as it could be, with as many promises as the corporation is making, is still a risk in a land we shouldn’t be taking chances on.