NEWHALEN -- Things are quiet on the north shores of Iliamna Lake.
Gone are the early mornings when dozens of trucks and four-wheelers would commute from the communities of Newhalen and Iliamna to the Pebble Partnership offices, located about 5 miles north of Newhalen, to prepare for exploration work at the site of the proposed Pebble mine. Also gone are the numerous helicopters, which each day would zoom from the Iliamna airport, a mere 18 miles from the proposed mine site.
The Pebble office is quiet, too, with just a few employees watching over the two-story building. Rooms are filled with bright orange hard hats and vests, and a large map showing off the Pebble Prospect hangs in the living room. Desks sit unoccupied. Signs warning workers to stay hydrated in the field line the walls.
But those workers find little to do these days, only watching over the buildings and two other sites, locked behind chain-link fences. Those sites are filled with square stacks of core samples, collected over the last 10 years, wrapped in black plastic, spray painted with bright orange numbers indicating their original location. Propane tanks, weather stations and orange and red “medic tents” stay stacked, too, unused and waiting.
Over the last year, the tiny communities of Newhalen and Iliamna, located on the shores of Alaska’s largest lake, have been adapting to a new kind of life since the Pebble Partnership all but shut down operations in the villages. A pause button has been pressed after almost of a decade of booming jobs in the area.
With the loss of major investors over the past year, the Pebble Partnership has all but pulled out of the communities, taking with them hard-to-find jobs in an area where little industry outside of fishing and tourism exists today.