Right now, a record number of sockeye salmon are flooding into the Nushagak River — returning from their multiyear feeding frenzy in the north Pacific Ocean. Over 1 million salmon were caught in one day alone.
This year is an impressive demonstration of what clean water and healthy habitat can do for Bristol Bay communities and Alaska.
At the same time, Northern Dynasty Minerals, a junior mining company with no mining experience, is searching for an investor to pursue the development of the Pebble mine and has indicated it will announce a new partnership by the end of this month.
If Northern Dynasty secures a partner, it will likely move forward to obtain the permits needed for developing the Pebble mine. While we've heard that promise before, with the recent lawsuit settlement between Pebble and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Pebble now has a strong incentive to attempt to move into permitting in the next two years.
Most of the permits needed would be granted by the state of Alaska. They also would need a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
It is clear from the announcement this week that we can no longer fully count on the EPA to finalize the protections that tens of thousands of Alaskans supported. We certainly need to let Pruitt know that withdrawing the proposed determination is absolutely the wrong decision.
But we also cannot afford complacency when it comes to protection of our salmon, and our opposition to Pebble needs to stretch beyond that. We need to let any prospective investor in Pebble know that they will have to deal with tens of thousands of Alaskans who do not want a mine on top of Bristol Bay's salmon rivers.
We need to demand that our leaders, Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young stand with the majority of state residents to strongly and vocally oppose Pebble.
Over the past decade, as concern has grown about the mine, thousands of Alaskans showed up at public hearings to testify in favor of protecting the salmon, jobs and culture of Bristol Bay from Pebble mine.
Ninety-eight percent of Bristol Bay area people supported protections for Bristol Bay during the 2012 EPA comment period. Eighty-one percent of Bristol Bay Native Corp. shareholders, according to a 2011 poll, and dozens of tribes and village corporations oppose Pebble.
Commercial and sportfishing businesses have spoken up with concerns about Pebble impacting their jobs and income.
During the fall 2014 election, it became abundantly clear that Alaskans across the state oppose this egregious proposal, as people voted by a 2 to 1 margin, including a majority in every district in the state, to pass an initiative that puts an additional hurdle in Pebble's permitting process.
While that is a good step, I think most Alaskans realize we cannot afford to rest until we know Bristol Bay salmon habitat is truly protected.
Several years ago, local Bristol Bay leaders came together and worked with residents to define a community vision for Bristol Bay. The vision included excellent schools, safe and healthy families, local jobs, access to subsistence resources and a strong voice in determining the future direction of the region.
Sixty-three percent of Bristol Bay residents wanted to see economic growth in business and industries based largely on renewable resources.
These are lofty and admirable goals. It is a vision where Pebble has no place. It is a vision where salmon thrive, and the communities, economies and cultures that depend on them.
Knowing the grit and determination of the people here, I am confident we can attain that vision if given half a chance.
It's time to put in place an Alaska-driven solution to the Pebble problem, which has dragged on for far too long.
Norm Van Vactor is president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.
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