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Bristol Bay is open for business

  • Author: Ralph Andersen
    | Opinion
    , Brian Kraft
    | Opinion
    , Norm Van Vactor
    | Opinion
  • Updated: December 15, 2018
  • Published December 15, 2018

Aerial view of Dillingham where EPA administrator Gina McCarthy listened to people from around Bristol Bay region of Alaska voice their opposition to the proposed Pebble mine during a meeting at the Dillingham Middle School gym on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. (BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News)

As Alaskans and leaders in Bristol Bay, we were heartened to hear our governor-elect emphasize Alaska is “open for business.” We understand that oil and gas development and mining are important industries in our state and, for the most part, should be given a green light.

However, here in Bristol Bay, things are a bit different. Our industries are driven by fish – and we know from history and science that massive mines and salmon don’t mix well.

The three of us are each involved in industries that hold the “open sign” thanks to clean water and strong fisheries. Without them, 14,000 jobs would disappear, our businesses and communities falter, as would the local and state economy. Commercial fishing and seafood processing is the largest employer in Alaska, and the Bristol Bay fishery is valued at $1.5 billion annually. The sport fishery brings tourists and anglers from around the world to spend money in our state, and in Bristol Bay, that industry generates $150 million in revenue each summer.

Opposition to the Pebble mine has never followed party lines or been a red, blue or green issue. It’s an Alaska issue. Alaskans who understand fisheries and Pebble’s proposal know that a massive mine of this type in this location threatens the ability of existing Alaskan businesses to continue to thrive.

Alaskans on both sides of the aisle are in favor of a fair permit review process. However, the current state and federal review process is lacking the appropriate tools to accurately assess impacts of projects that is of a scale much larger than those anticipated when our permitting toolbox was built. When there is no place in the process for Alaskans to say "no” to a large-scale mine that directly compromises other industries that provide jobs and fuel the economy, then we believe that process is broken and deserves a closer look.

We want to be clear: we do not want to damper resource-development in Alaska. This means we must have balance and common sense to ensure existing businesses and communities aren’t harmed by new development. Fisheries scientists, mining experts and engineers have reviewed Pebble’s plans from every angle, and the conclusion is clear: This proposal will devastate the world’s last great wild salmon fishery, the people and businesses it sustains. With the recent volatility in Alaska’s economy, saying no to a mine that would compromise an existing $1.5 billion annual industry is a wise choice.

Similarly, politicians from both sides of the aisle have noted that common sense and history tell us mining operations never go as originally planned. There are accidents, like we saw at the Mount Polley mine tailings dam failure in British Columbia. There is also the inevitable growth, and thus impact, of mining project from its initial footprint. Those risks are not worth it in Bristol Bay. This region, with a record-setting 60 million-plus run of wild salmon in 2018, a culture that has sustained indigenous Alaskans for generations, a hunting and fishing paradise that sporting dreams are made of, and an annual economic engine that provides thousands of Americans with jobs, simply should not be put at risk.

And it’s not only Bristol Bay at stake. If Pebble mine is developed, when something eventually goes wrong, the project has the potential to give Alaska’s entire resource extraction industry a black eye. Because of the potential for increased regulations, building Pebble mine is a step toward putting up a “closed for business” sign on Alaska’s front door.

For a decade, Alaskans from across the political spectrum have echoed the local people of Bristol Bay and said Pebble mine is a risk they aren’t willing to take. Pebble mine proponents have offered more than 15 years of shifting stories to Alaskans. Now is not the time to trust the Pebble Limited Partnership after they have proven themselves untrustworthy. Now is also not the time to believe that an outdated permitting system protects the best interests of Alaskans when it enables a project that risking thriving local businesses.

We look forward to working with our new state administration to ensure that the future of Bristol Bay’s people and economy is run by the hardworking faces that have built these industries and made a life here since time immemorial, not foreign miners.

Bristol Bay is open for business. To keep it open, we must take care of the jobs and businesses currently supported by a thriving fishery.

Ralph Andersen is the President and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association. Brian Kraft is a pilot and owner of two Bristol Bay fishing lodges. Norm Van Vactor is the CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

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