Jack Hobson lives as he has for approximately 50 years, off the waters lakes Clark and Iliamna. Compared to bottled water, lake water is cleaner, he says. But because he lives within 17 miles of the proposed site for the Pebble gold and copper mine, he and the other members of the Nondalton tribal council are worried.
"Water is the giver of life," he said. "We really need to protect our water in the state of Alaska."
Hobson, the president of the Nondalton tribal council, said he's not against mining, but after examining Alaska's track record regarding large scale operations such as the Kensington gold mine in Juneau and the state's water quality standards, he decided to take action. Hobson is the cosponsor for the Alaska Clean Water Initiative, which would hold Northern Dynasty and other mining companies to stricter standards if they want to mine in the state of Alaska.
"If there's going to be mining in Alaska, let's keep the water clean," Hobson said. "All of us depend on water for everything."
Supporters and skeptics showed up at the Alaska Clean Water Initiative rally at Kenai Peninsula College on Saturday to voice opinions, gain more information and add their name to a list of signatures. Dave Atcheson, Kenai Peninsula outreach director for the Renewable Resource Coalition (RRC), said the initiative needs 23,800 signatures by Jan. 1 to be included on the 2008 ballot.
"(We're going to) convince people to collect signatures," he said. "There are currently 20 people collecting, I hope we can get more."
Steve Schoonmaker, a commercial fisherman and hunting guide, fished and hunted in the Lake Clark and Bristol Bay areas since the 1970s. Sporting a cap that depicting a rainbow trout over a pot of gold saying Rainbows Over Gold, he said he supports the initiative because it would give the people of the state of Alaska more of a say. It's not just the mine that would have an impact on the region, it's the roads and anything else that goes with it, he said.
"It's time for us to have a say in things," he said. "This either could be the last place to do it wrong and the first place to do it right."
D.J. and Joel Blatchford said as Alaska Natives they've owned land in the Bristol Bay region since "time immemorial." Not necessarily opposed to something that will create jobs in that region, D.J. Blatchford wondered what the point of the rally was.
"I counted 25 people here," she said, adding that the reality is natives need to be able to make a living, especially now that Agrium shut down. "What can 25 people do against 650,000? We're going to back whatever is going to pay us. I want what's best for the people."
Amanda Burg spent much of Saturday collecting signatures for the iniative and had about a dozen by the time Atcheson, Hobson and others spoke. She said she became aware of the Pebble mine situation when fisheries consultant Dr. Carol Ann Woody spoke at Cook Inlet Aquaculture in October. She, like Hobson, said she's not against mining either, but added that if Northern Dynasty cared as much about the fishery and watershed as they say they do, they would support the initiative. When asked if she thinks Northern Dynasty could operate Pebble mine without damaging the watershed, she said the location and type of mine would make that hard to accomplish.
"It's a bad place for a mine," Burg said, adding that she set out to get as many signatures as she could. "It's just protecting our fish and our future. Anyone who lives in Alaska should want to sign it."
Bear biologist Steve Stringham said he comes from a mining family, his father having earned his bachelor's degree in mining engineering before he worked for Dow chemicals. Stringham said he was raised with the idea that good conservation equals good business, reminding folks that just because a watershed meets the Environmental Protection Agency's water quality standards it doesn't mean the water is fit for salmon to spawn and humans to drink.
"We live in a country that is so cold and wet it prevents nitrogen from being used by the plants here," he said. "Nitrogen comes from salmon. Salmon has impacts on everything."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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