Anti-Pebble ploy a cheesy way to keep rich folks fishing

Paul Jenkins

While rich guys and their hapless stooges wage the dirtiest, most misleading anti-development war in Alaska history, voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough next month are being duped into a meaningless propaganda vote.

The ongoing battle over the Pebble mine -- for the record, there is no mine, no mine application, no real idea of what a mine might look like, no concept of what it may or may not entail -- is being financed in large part by rich lodge owner Bob Gillam and peddled as a valiant effort to save Bristol Bay fish. Hogwash. It is a cheesy fight to save the rich guys' fishing experiences. No more; no less. Largely the fracas is -- and has been -- a swirl of lies and mischaracterizations.

The Pebble situation aptly is described in "Alice in Wonderland" when Alice says: "If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?"

That makes more sense than Pebble opponents' fight-to-the-last-penny "debate" over Pebble, a gold, copper and molybdenum prospect in Southwest Alaska, near Nondalton. Supporters say a mine would provide jobs, opportunities and a future for the region without endangering fish stocks. Opponents will tell you horror stories about giant dams breaking, killing everything within 1,000 miles, and monsters, lots of monsters.

A person looking for an honest take should read an Aug. 18 Compass piece in the Anchorage Daily News by Orin Seybert, founder and retired CEO of Peninsula Airways. He claims to be neither pro- nor anti-Pebble and what he says has the ring of truth. He pokes holes in much of the anti-Pebble argument but says the process has a long way to go. He adds, "Finally, if the anti-Pebble group cannot even get the obvious facts straight, how are we supposed to trust the rest of their advertising?"

A good question, indeed.

As part of a stunt to sidetrack mine development by Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American PLC, opponents trying to give the appearance of community opposition to Pebble -- while throwing a legal monkey wrench into the works -- cobbled up an initiative to place on the ballot a question of whether local planning officials should have final say on projects larger than 640 acres if they affect salmon. That would include, of course, Pebble. The borough, after a judge refused to block it, certified the initiative despite a swarm of legal questions.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock, for reasons known only to the judicial gods, ignored the Alaska Constitution, state law, the Alaska Attorney General's Office and lawyers for the Pebble Limited Partnership to clear the way for a huge, expensive, unenforceable joke. That does not begin to include questions about using initiatives to allocate resources and a host of other problems. The judge said he would deal with those -- after the vote.

Add to that: The Alaska Supreme Court, which never saw an initiative it did not like, refused to block the vote because apparently, and I'm guessing here, it did not involve gay rights.

Pebble is a prime example of how initiatives are misused as back doors for wealthy special interests to push ideas that would wither in the light of day. They sidestep constitutional checks and balances and neatly avoid the fuss, muss and bother of legislative wrangling.

Would legislation handing over to rural borough planners Alaska's constitutionally mandated control of its natural resources have a whisper of a chance of passing legislative muster? Hardly. Yet, because of a rich guy and a judge, a handful of Lake and Peninsula Borough voters are well on their way to making that very call for all Alaskans -- at least until rationality returns.

The Washington Post's late David Broder saw initiatives for what they are. He wrote "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money," in which he concluded initiatives are nothing but an assault on the Constitution.

Initiatives have given the United States something unthinkable, laws without government, he said, and have "become the favored tool of millionaires and interest groups that use their wealth to achieve their own policy goals. ..."

Welcome to the so-called Pebble "debate."

Paul Jenkins is editor of the The Planet's parent corporation, Porcaro Communications, has contractual relationships with numerous organizations and businesses supporting the mining industry, including Defend Your Rights, Vote No on the Save our Salmon Initiative.