Class ring makers join boycott against Pebble Mine

PRICELESS PROPERTY: Environmental concerns outweigh need for gold.

October 1, 2009 

The growing list of jewelers vowing to boycott gold from the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska now includes major manufacturers of class rings.

Herff Jones and Commemorative Brands Inc., both of which make class rings, have joined the list of jewelers opposed to the proposed mine in Southwest Alaska. Two other companies, Birks & Mayors and Hacker Jewelers, also added their names to the list this week out of concern for the region's environment.

Canadian-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. and London-based Anglo American are hoping to develop Pebble into a mine. The huge copper, gold and molybdenum deposit is in a region of major wild salmon streams.

The 18 jewelry companies against Pebble represent sales of more than $3.7 billion a year of all kinds of jewelry, not just gold.

John Shively, chief executive of the Pebble Partnership, said the jewelers are premature in opposing the Pebble mine because the project plans have not been finalized.

"They've prejudged the project when we don't have one. I think it is unfortunate but that is their decision," he said.

Northern Dynasty and Anglo American recently announced a $10 million increase in this year's budget for Pebble to prepare the mine for state and federal permitting starting next year. For more than a year the partnership has been releasing results of its environmental and socio-economic research, including one study released this week on noise.

Dan Hacker, whose father founded Hacker Jewelers of Tecumseh, Mich., in 1956, described his business as a "mom-and-pop" operation.

Hacker said developing Pebble into a mine "really threatens to endanger a great commercial salmon fishery and some pristine water."

Whenever possible, he said, he uses recycled gold instead of newly mined gold.

"Gold is one of the most recycled resources that the world has ever known," he said.

Tiffany & Co., with more than $1.5 billion in sales, is leading the jewelers' campaign against Pebble.

Other large jewelers who have said they oppose the mine include Herff Jones and Helzberg Diamonds.

Most of the demand for gold in the United States is for jewelry.

These jewelers are joined in their opposition to developing Pebble by some fishing groups and some people and communities in the region.

But other people and communities there are among those who either support development or are staying neutral for now.

Pebble is a massive mineral deposit, with billions of dollars worth of copper and gold. But it's remotely located, which raises development costs.

Pebble is situated near Iliamna, along a couple of streams that flow into two of the five rivers that support the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. This year commercial fishermen caught about 31 million red salmon at Bristol Bay -- about 75 percent of the sockeye that returned to spawn -- worth $128 million, the state said. They also caught about $2 million worth of other kinds of salmon. Bristol Bay is the state's most valuable commercial salmon fishery.

The Anchorage Daily News/ contributed to this article.

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