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Economic development saves villages

  • Author: David McAlister
    | Opinion
  • Updated: March 8, 2019
  • Published March 10, 2019

Field biologists work on stream studies on the Koktuli River in the area of the proposed Pebble gold mine site in the Iliamna Lake area of the Alaska Peninsula. (Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News)

When your village shrinks to the point its school closes, your village dies. Without a school, families leave. Schools close and families leave villages because the cost of remaining is not sustainable. First you sell your fishing permit, which had once supported you. The money you receive from your permit helps you buy winter fuel to keep your family warm for a few years. But, the money runs out. So you take the family and join the diaspora to the city.

That is what happened in the Iliamna Lake region when stove oil jumped to $8 per gallon, the fish runs and the price paid for fish were both low, and the young people left. The Iliamna Lake region offers few economic opportunities. When you don’t have cash, you can’t survive.

The Iliamna Lake region is among the most beautiful regions of the state. The seventh-largest fresh water lake in the U.S., Iliamna also is a nursery for the millions of salmon that find their way into the world’s most productive sockeye fishery, Bristol Bay.

Yet until recently, Iliamna Lake was a forgotten stepchild within the Bristol Bay region. Removed by more than 75 nautical miles from the bay, the villages are barred from receiving up to $500,000 per year from Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. Children of Iliamna Lake villages do not receive scholarships from BBEDC.

During the past few years, the Pebble Limited Partnership has provided significant economic opportunities to Iliamna Lake residents. Two of those villages, Newhalen and Kokhanok, are within the Alaska Peninsula Corporation. While APC remains neutral pending completion of the recently released draft environmental impact statement, it supports the continuing analysis.

APC’s decision to enter into an agreement with Pebble followed numerous meetings with its shareholders. APC officials met with shareholders in the villages. Regular updates were provided at annual meetings and via social media and APC’s web page. Like many residents of Bristol Bay, we do not all agree that the development of a mine is a good idea. However, sitting on the side lines and stomping our feet is not the Alaska way to do things.

That is why Alaska Peninsula Corporation chooses a different path. We choose a path that allows our shareholders to stay in their ancestral villages. Working with Pebble has allowed our shareholders to do that.

Recently, the leaders of three large Bristol Bay entities who oppose the Pebble development opined in this newspaper to delay a decision on Pebble. APC disagrees. Good jobs and a strong economy lead to stable villages, productive subsistence harvesting and families that grow and prosper in their ancestral villages.

We assume that the three Bristol Bay leaders who opined otherwise are able to provide adequately for their families. Each is able to live in comfort knowing that his position is secure. Our shareholders support those leaders’ chosen path. We request only that the needs and welfare of our people be viewed with the same dignity.

The Iliamna Lake villages are barred from participating in the riches created by BBEDC. Bristol Bay Native Corporation has invested outside the Iliamna Lake region. Bristol Bay Native Association marches to the drum of those fearing Pebble.

APC looks forward to our future, to families continuing our ages-old culture and traditions in villages that are strong, sustainable and vibrant. We welcome the economic opportunities presented.

David McAlister is executive vice president and CEO of the Alaska Peninsula Corporation.

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