For a long time, our home villages around Iliamna Lake have been all but ignored. We have largely been left out of many economic opportunities and discussions about what we wanted for the region.
That is, until the Pebble project came to town.
Now, everyone wants to speak for us and tell us what is best for our communities. They also are quick to convey to the rest of Alaska that the people of the region are united with one voice — especially when it comes to opposing Pebble. Well, that is just not true, and we are here to share another view about Pebble — ours.
We have long stated that we want to know the full story about Pebble before making final decisions about the project. If it passes the environmental criteria and the company secures its permits, we want a seat at the table with them to guide development, secure contracts and help ensure locals will get jobs.
Like all Alaskans, we care deeply about the salmon and the water in our area. And we care about the challenges our communities are facing. We won’t claim to speak for everyone in the lake area, but we will speak on behalf of our shareholders, our neighbors and our families who have different views than our coastal colleagues.
We have watched many friends and family members struggle to make ends meet every month. We have watched some struggle with alcohol and despair. We have watched families separate as some have moved in search of opportunity. Although development of Pebble won’t solve all of these things, it may make a major difference for our communities to have a steady economy and opportunities for jobs.
The big question we face is how we balance this potential mine with our desire to ensure healthy salmon runs. It begins with ensuring a robust regulatory process and strict adherence to the environmental rules that govern development in Alaska. We count on the range of state and federal agencies to study the details of Pebble’s plans and to tell us if the technical information passes the test. We have learned over the years that there are many rules in place that mining companies must follow in order to operate. We learned this by visiting other mines, by speaking with government agencies and by asking a lot of questions.
We are scheduled to meet with the General Counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, this week, and these are among the issues we will discuss with him. We will let him know that we count on the federal government to follow the rules, something we believe was not done by the EPA in the previous administration when they chose to preemptively veto Pebble’s ability to participate in the environmental review process. We will share our views about our homes and the economic struggles we all face, especially after the EPA took steps that went well outside the established review process.
We will tell him that we listen to the regulators over the environmentalists who will drop their interest in us as soon as the Pebble matter is resolved to their satisfaction and they will move on to the next great environmental “threat” to Alaska.
We want him to know that he will hear from commercial fishermen who have tried to convince us the mine cannot coexist with the fishery. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says otherwise, it is our experience with commercial fishing that leads us to another view. Most drift permits are owned by people from outside Alaska, so most of the value of the fishery leaves our region. Many of those permits were acquired from our friends and neighbors who had to sell them to make ends meet. Thus, many in our villages do not benefit from the fishing economy at all. We want to keep our minds and our options open. We believe co-existence between fishing and mining is possible, and that our fish and water can be protected.
We want jobs for our people so they can lift their heads high and provide for their families in the villages where they were born. We know it can be done because Alaska has a track record of balancing development and conservation and doing things right.
Thus, when environmentalists and anglers who are not from our region and the commercial fishermen who don’t live near us take to playing outside the rules to stop a life-changing opportunity for our people, we want the EPA General Counsel to understand our views.
Brad Angasan is a senior vice president of Alaska Peninsula Corp. Angasan is originally from South Naknek. He continues to commercial fish in Bristol Bay with his family.
Sue Anelon is president of Iliamna Natives Limited, which owns 69,000 acres of land near the proposed Pebble project. She is a lifelong resident of Iliamna and has raised her family in Iliamna. She also commercially fished in Bristol Bay for the majority of her life. She and her husband continue to live a traditional and subsistence lifestyle.
Lisa Reimers is on the board of Iliamna Natives Limited and was born and raised in Iliamna. She also commercially fished in Bristol Bay until it could not support her family. Reimers had to find a job and give up commercial fishing to support her family. She believes that an economy is needed to sustain their village and the shareholders who live in Iliamna. she wants their village corporation (INL), that was formed to help create an economy for their shareholders, to capitalize on opportunities that Pebble will create in Iliamna.
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