Pebble's foe going all out to discredit mine efforts

Paul Jenkins

Truth bites the dust first in war. So says Sen. Hiram Johnson or the Greek guy, Aeschylus -- take your pick. Truth croaked early in the Pebble project bloodletting. Unfortunately, integrity and decency went, too.

Despite the prattling of liberals, the Pebble battle is about money. Not fish. Not land. Not water. Money. How much Bob Gillam is willing to spend to block the project -- how much others are willing to take.

Gillam is a zillionaire once anointed Alaska's richest man and a not-in-my-backyard type. He has concluded he does not want mining anywhere near his aircraft carrier-size, nine-bedroom private abode known to a select few nowadays as the Fish Palace.

His flacks quack like ducks if I call it a private lodge, which it is. The Palace is located in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, 25 miles from the rich Pebble deposit.

That prospect, measuring 15,000 feet by 9,000 feet includes an estimated 107 million ounces of gold, 80 billion pounds of copper and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum.

Gillam has spent forklifts of cash trying to hobble Pebble. His latest expenditure, at least $433,000, is for a bogus "Save our Salmon' initiative. If it passes, it will carry with it all the clout of a 3-day-old french fry.

The idea, aimed at Pebble, is to allow small political subdivisions to willy-nilly block development on projects of 640 acres or larger that might affect salmon streams.

Alaska will not surrender its constitutional mandate. The state will go to court; the state will win.

So why vote? It's a public relations bid for time to allow Gillam et al., to pretend the borough is anti-Pebble.

Then there is the Orthodox Church of America. The Alaska Dispatch reports three clergy members traveled on a Gillam plane to various Southwest Alaska villages to bless water. One of them was Father Michael Oleksa. Some of that is showing up in the anti-Pebble effort, but there is more.

"I also foresee that, if we remain in close association with Mr. Gillam and we want, let us suppose, to build a church in Anchorage, he would loan us funds at a very low interest rate and would donate generously to our project. ... Perhaps we could interest him in buying some land for us, or supporting an assisted living complex for our elders. I know he is interested in charitable activities," Oleksa says in a lengthy, leaked email.

Make of it what you will.

Despite Gillam's histrionics, if the Pebble Partnership had a mining plan, it would be seeking permits. It does not. It is not. In 2006, then-owner Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty, filed for water rights anticipating that somebody else might claim the water first. That generated boxcar loads of paper.

That paperwork feeds anti-Pebble forces who say, "See, Pebble plans to kill us all." In reality, it is like designing a Maserati in 2006 and being shocked at the changes five years later as the car begins to take shape. The Pebble effort, too, has changed drastically.

There remain many questions. Will the mine will be above or below ground? Some combination? Pebble is leaning toward an open pit. It is, the company says, a multibillion-dollar question.

It will take more than 60 permits for Pebble to proceed. The first, the wetlands permit, triggers an excruciating National Environmental Policy Act process. There will be extensive public comments in the Environmental Impact Statement -- and litigation.

The Partnership still must decide: Is the project technically viable? How will it meet environmental requirements? Is it economic? These guys do not even have the answers to those questions yet.

Public relations hucksters must be much cheaper than lawyers. That would explain the vicious fight and bushels of money being spent before the permitting process even begins to begin. I wonder whether Gillam and his shills -- they love that word, so what the heck? -- will divulge what they plan if they succeed and there is no Pebble, no jobs, no economy?

Will he build roads? Schools? Infrastructure? Provide jobs? Clinics? Fuel stations? How do you build an economy from scratch?

Offering rooms at the Palace and fly-fishing can stretch only so far.

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.