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Don’t believe the hype. Pebble is as risky as ever.

  • Author: Holly Wysocki
    | Opinion
  • Updated: February 20
  • Published February 20

Chistian Alexie, 4, attends a rally outside the Hotel Captain Cook on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. The protesters are strongly opposed to the proposed mine and are dedicated to protecting the Bristol Bay wild salmon runs that sustain indigenous cultures and fish-based businesses. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

I listened to a discussion hosted by the Alaska Forum on the Environment between Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier and former Alaska State Senator Rick Halford, a Pebble opponent. Like many Alaskans, I’ve followed this issue closely, especially since it would impact my home. I was appalled at the lies spread by Mr. Collier during the presentation and owe great thanks to Mr. Halford for correcting him and telling the truth. I want to clear up a few points upon which Pebble is trying to mislead Alaskans, especially as we go into an important public comment period.

Pebble claims that they have “de-risked” the concerns Alaskans have raised about Pebble Mine. In reality, the mine remains as risky as it was 10 years ago, and new rhetoric is a thinly-veiled ruse to win public support and then expand the mine in 25 years once the initial damage is done and the infrastructure built. This is clear in how the project is being sold to investors, such as when Northern Dynasty (Pebble’s parent company) CEO, Ron Thiessen stated, “this project, it’s a multi-generational opportunity. Its size and scale will lead to a very, very long-life mine.”

Next, some of Pebble’s “no harm to the fishery” claims are based on an unreasonable assumption that no mistakes would be made, as well as on their removal of cyanide, at least in Phase One. A recent quote by Thiessen is quite contrary to that claim: “We said we’ll take it out for now, but … we can always reconsider that optionality in the future.” Further, cyanide is just one of many environmental concerns. The mine pit and its infrastructure will use unimaginable amounts of water and damage important wildlife and fish habitat regardless of design, and the tailings dams represent a forever risk to our waterways.

Collier says they will stay out of the Kvichak River drainage, but if you look closely at their plans, they cross dozens of salmon-bearing rivers, will be transporting mine materials across Lake Iliamna by ferry and have plans to withdraw massive amounts of water from Upper Talarik Creek, an important river for subsistence and sport fishing.

Mr. Collier also tried to hit economic points, but again skirted around the obvious. The Bristol Bay fishery is thriving. Last summer, a record return of sockeye powered a booming regional economy even in the recession, and Bristol Bay was the only region in the state to meet all escapement goals. At best, Pebble presents a “boom and bust” economic scenario for Bristol Bay, and comes at the price of trading in the fishery that has sustained our region forever. Pebble touts a potential 2,000 jobs for Alaskans. Meanwhile, the subsistence fishery feeds our families every year, and the Bristol Bay commercial fishery alone supplies more than 14,000 jobs, and that doesn’t account for over 70 sport-fishing lodges throughout the region, all of which rely on healthy fisheries and the remote, wild character that Pebble stands to ruin.

Finally, the mine permit review process came up many times. Our state leaders’ choice to let the process play out before they weigh in is failing Alaskans. The process is set up to ask “how” to best build Phase-One Pebble, not “if” it should advance at all. We can’t fall back on this process to protect us, and the reasons for that are as ample as Pebble’s falsehoods about mine size. The permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing is constantly changing (with new updates as late as last week), missing key components and due diligence by Pebble, and the project it describes is just a fraction of the development we know Pebble is planning. The Army Corps review isn’t terribly thorough either: It doesn’t even include a comprehensive analysis of a tailings dam failure. Our leaders should be speaking up for our concerns, not waiting for the deeply flawed process to play out.

Tom Collier is a compelling speaker and is working hard to give Pebble a “fresh look,” as he puts it. I’d work hard too, if I had a deadline to meet to get a $12.5 million personal bonus. However, with a little background information, open eyes about the region and a basic understanding that water flows downhill and forever is a long time, the whole Pebble Mine case gets boiled down to four simple words: wrong mine, wrong place. And I’ll add one more: forever.

Alaskans don’t want Pebble. We didn’t 10 years ago; we don’t now. Alaskans, please, stand strong and don’t fall for the lies Collier and team are spreading. Don’t let Collier get his bonus at our expense. Do what you can to help protect the incredible fishery, our Native cultures and thousands of American jobs in Bristol Bay from this mine. Please speak up every chance you get, including commenting on the just-released Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Holly Wysocki is a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and subsistence/commercial fisherwoman.

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