The head of United Tribes of Bristol Bay wrote recently in these pages, purportedly speaking on behalf of all residents of the region, about the proposed Pebble mine and actions by our governor to defend Alaska’s ability to manage its lands. As has happened repeatedly for nearly 20 years, I would like to share a different perspective about Pebble from our region.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy visited Iliamna this summer to learn about the many issues facing our community. He is one of very few leaders who have taken the time to put boots on the ground, look us in the eyes and listen to our perspectives — especially our view about Pebble. This is unlike the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who recently visited the region and flew right over us en route to another part of the Bristol Bay region.
Over the years, we have watched government leaders, corporate heads, national media writers and many more bypass Iliamna and Newhalen when visiting Alaska to delve into the Pebble debate. I am hesitant to question the motives of others, but can only speculate they ignore us because we don’t fit the narrative. Early on, we were skeptical about mining and mining regulations because we didn’t have experience or knowledge about any of it. So, we undertook to educate ourselves about all aspects of mining, environmental regulations, and how to work with mining companies about business opportunities.
As a result, we have worked with the promoters of Pebble for nearly 20 years. Like many relationships, it has been far from perfect, but we have always had a seat at the table to share our perspective, ask our questions and ensure our voice is heard loud and clear.
The Pebble exploration work resulted in good jobs and business opportunities for our people and our communities. At the heyday of operations, several hundred residents of Iliamna, Newhalen and other Bristol Bay communities had jobs. Jobs that meant fuel for the winter and food on the table. It also demonstrated the tremendous potential economic opportunity a mine like Pebble could mean for our Lake Area communities.
Why do we care about jobs? To me, it is quite simple. Jobs mean hope. Hope for the future. Hope for the family. I have been a leader of my village corporation for a long time. In this role, I listen to the many challenges our shareholders face. I frequently get asked about jobs and I only wish I could provide one for everyone who asks me. I have heard heartbreaking stories about shareholders living on the streets of Anchorage, shareholders contemplating suicide, shareholders battling alcohol. These stories burden me with worry about the despair so many are facing. Finding opportunities for these shareholders is where I find motivation.
Over the years, I have learned about mining, its impacts and opportunities. I have tried many times to get an audience with political leaders and regulators to share our views. I have explained our perspective to any media member who bothered to figure out we were the closest community to Pebble. I continue to be frustrated by the pervasive amount of misinformation swirling around the Pebble discussion.
Some have noted that the Trump administration blocked Pebble, yet fail to mention this decision was found to be deficient. The permit denial by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was reviewed and sent back to the Alaska office for additional work due to many deficiencies. The lack of acknowledgment about the positive impact of jobs and economic activity for our communities was among the many reasons this permit requires additional work.
Gov. Dunleavy sued the EPA because the EPA took an action against Alaska. Others have written more eloquently about the reasons why this action was important but I’ll just add that just because the governor’s opponents want something to be true does not mean it is. The land around Pebble is state land. As such, the state has a critical role and interest in what happens to this land. To me, the governor’s decision to sue makes perfect sense. If you want to know more about the case, please read the state’s filing.
And if you are curious about the views of Iliamna or Newhalen regarding Pebble, come visit. You might be surprised by what you see and what you hear.
Lisa Reimers was raised in Iliamna. She is the CEO of Iliamna Development Corp. and an Iliamna Natives Limited board member.
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