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Southwest Alaska needed jobs long before Pebble mine proposal

Nels Anderson Jr.

The opinion piece by Melvin Andrew, "My Personal Pebble," expresses clearly what is driving people toward Pebble. The regional corporations and village corporations are not providing regional economic opportunities for people to work, feed their families, and deliver economic security.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation are the richest organizations in the Bristol Bay region but they do not have an economic development plan that will equal what Pebble is doing to provide new jobs for residents of our Bristol Bay villages.

People need work and will migrate out of the region or move toward work at Pebble to provide money to feed their families, help to keep Bristol Bay village schools open, earn money to subsistence hunt, fish, and gather food, pay for ammo, gasoline, propane, heating fuel, electricity, and clothing.

BBNC and BBEDC need to ramp up their efforts to hire more Bristol Bay residents into their 8(a) partner corporations, invest in and establish a regional fuel co-op to lower the cost of fuel, develop a major regional infrastructure plan to deliver low-cost energy by engineering a regional energy grid, develop and plan a Subsistence Sensitive Transportation Plan to move people and material more efficiently, and build a regional telecommunications system that will connect all of our villages with high-speed internet access.

In addition, BBEDC and BBNC need to hire the people that we have supported with grants and scholarships by employing those who now have bachelor and master degrees in business management and engineering to help develop the Bristol Bay region's economy and infrastructure.

Commercial fishing is not enough to turn the economy around the way the fishing industry operates now. A paradigm shift in thinking has to occur to make on-shore, year-round, value-added, seafood processing become the economic engine that can power Bristol Bay into the future. We are exporting Bristol Bay's wealth outside to have value added to our salmon and Bering Sea resources elsewhere. This practice robs our region of its wealth potential.

A Bristol Bay Seafood Industrial Park is needed to centralize an on-shore, value-added, year-round, seafood processing operation to create more jobs, add value to our fish resources, keep our wealth in the Bristol Bay region, and provide economic security for our villages and residents of Bristol Bay. Our resident permit holders should benefit from value added seafood processing from harvesting our salmon and the sale of table-ready products to the end users. There are plans on the shelf that can be dusted off to accomplish this.

Anything less than a proactive, robust, and energetic Bristol Bay Economic Revitalization Plan to derail the migration of our people out of the region will not be enough. Our people need jobs and it is the duty and responsibility of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation to be the catalysts to leverage and invest their financial clout to provide the momentum needed to create economic opportunities that the Bristol Bay region and our villages need to survive into the future.

Finally, unless BBNC and BBEDC take hold and invest in the region, the current anti-Pebble sentiment will slowly diminish and begin to erode. Not many of us want to ever see Pebble operational, but it can happen if no new jobs are created in our region other than those Pebble is providing at this time.

Thank you.

Nels Anderson Jr. is a Curyung tribal member and shareholder of Bristol Bay Native Corporation and of Choggiung Limited.

The preceding commentary first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times and is republished here with permission. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.