A month after the world celebrated a new millennium, a gold and copper mine leaked more than 130,000 cubic meters of cyanide into the Lupes and Somes rivers in Romania. In one day, people's lives changed forever. What was an economic promise to Romania turned into a nightmare. Fish rotted on the beaches as far as Hungary and Serbia. Thousands of people died or became ill. The rivers were their source of food and water. Many fled the area that was their peoples' home for thousands of years.
The Aural Mine accident underscores the risk with the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. Over eight years after the accident, many still suffer and are shortchanged by large mining corporations that assured Aural mine would be safe. Ana Ghisa did not receive compensation for her husband's death from kidney failure in what doctors called a "work-related incident" at the mine's cyanide plant. Heavy metals and dust containing dried particulates of cyanide still intoxicate the air many breathe. Fact is, toxic waste is inevitable with gold and copper mining.
Pebble Mine is likely to be much larger than Aural Mine. Although Romanians depend on the land for their livelihood like the people of Bristol Bay, Alaska weather is more extreme, and Alaska is vulnerable to frequent earthquakes. The millions of gallons of toxic water from Pebble's tailing ponds will pollute fresh water, forever ruining the world's largest salmon run in Bristol Bay.
Alaska Natives have depended on salmon for thousands of years and continue to depend on it. On average, 20 percent of a Bristol Bay resident's overall diet is salmon, nearly 211 pounds annually per family.
My family is one of thousands who depend on it. Salmon has helped pay for my education and nourished my loved ones. It feeds 40 other species in the area, many of which we subsist on. Once dead, their bodies feed juvenile salmon to continue the circle of life. Bristol Bay salmon pours in over $100 million into Alaska's economy each year.
A salmon's sense of smell is crucial for us. It helps them identify predators, find mates and guides them back to Bristol Bay to spawn. Inevitable toxic waste from mining destroys their smelling abilities.
This is why the Clean Water Initiative was spawned, to protect fisheries. I am concerned about the $8 million the opponents of Measure 4 have spent confusing voters. Ninety-one percent of their funding comes from foreign mining firms who have an untrustworthy record working with indigenous people and complying with environmental laws throughout the world. Measure 4 is a straightforward initiative that does not threaten current mining jobs while safeguarding fishing families.
I hope Alaskans vote "Yes" on 4. Pebble partners promise the mine won't impact human water supply or reduce salmon runs. The purpose of 4 is to ensure promises are kept. Protecting a salmon's sense of smell redeems future generations and Alaska's largest employer: fishing. Who knew a salmon's unique sense of smell would be so important?
Verner Wilson III
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