alaskan, author, musician, educator
The Pebble Mine Controversy
My Bristol Bay Summer is based loosely on an experience I had more than 30 years ago when I took my two children to Bristol Bay aboard a Cessna 185 with my new boyfriend at the controls. Much has changed since then but the fish still surge into the Bay each summer and the fishermen still work around the clock to catch them. These days, it is too expensive to hire pilots to haul fish. Tenders now do the work of getting the fish to the processors.
Thanks to good fisheries management, the Bristol Bay salmon run is as healthy and productive as ever. It is the largest wild salmon fishery in the world, averaging 30 million fish caught each year, with a value to local fishermen of about $150 million.
What almost no one in Alaska knew back then is that fish were not the only things being flown around Bristol Bay. While my family was having its adventure, a group of international geologists were exploring a huge mineral discovery at the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers, the same rivers where the majority of Bristol Bay salmon have spawned since before the memory of man.
The companies that own the rights to the new find are working hard on what they call the “Pebble Project,” potentially the largest open-pit mining operation in North America, with a projected value in excess of $300 billion. Building the mine would require an 86-mile road, a deepwater port, and a power plant capable of supplying Manhattan Island. The two-square-mile hole would be visible from space. It would create a lot of jobs in an area of Alaska that has few economic opportunities.
But the mine also presents an environmental danger that has caused many in Alaska to oppose the development. The “tailings impoundment” would dwarf Hoover Dam and would need to seal in 10 square miles of toxic byproducts. A leak any time between now and forever could mean the end of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest.
“The location could not possibly be worse on the face of the earth,” said former state Senate President Rick Halford, a Republican from the Bristol Bay region. “This is a place of incredible value. It’s going to be probably the biggest environmental resource fight of our lifetime.”
Presently, construction of the Pebble Mine awaits approval by various permitting agencies, but their decisions will be just the beginning of a long road. It’s young people like Zoey, Eliot and Thomas, and readers just like you that will decide the future of Bristol Bay.
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