An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

The Pebble Mine Debate

Lefty on the Left has been axed from The Northern Light.  But don’t worry, it will continue here.  Here is what the article would have been for this week –

The vote for Pebble Mine is going to radically affect rural Alaska either way

A lot of people have gotten very tired of hearing the endless series of ads that have been on the radio about this issue.  The vote on this has already happened, but the effect is going to be big either way.  The issue is whether or not Pebble Mine should be allowed to exist.

The situation is this – what started as a local issue has turned into a national debate, with a lot of voices weighing in.  However, in the fray, there seems to be something that is being lost – where do the people stand?

Pebble Mine is a prospect for a gold and copper mining operation that is going to take place in the Alaska Lake and Peninsula Borough.  It is a community of around 1,600 people, spread along 17 communities.  This has been tossed around in Juneau since 2006

One criticism that was leveled was that neither side has a good slogan or good pitch for it.  Both sides of the debate seem to be not even trying.  They just seem to do a back and forth childish battle over who is right and who is wrong.

“Bristol Bay doesn’t believe the Pebble Lady.  Do you?” said one ad, after Martina Arce made the contention that a large chunk of the drift fishery permits are owned by non-Alaskans.  On both sides, for months, this is what it has been.  And there have also been some big names who have spoken on this subject.

“Their Pebble Mine would be gouged out of an American paradise — filled with salmon, bears, moose, caribou, wolves and whales — that has sustained Native communities for thousands of years,” Robert Redford wrote in an Op-ed article on The Huffington Post.

Redford isn’t the only one.  There are a number of jewelers, like Ben Bridge, Zale Corp., Tiffany & Co., who are saying that they won’t use any “dirty gold.”  A number of chefs at big restaurants down in the states are saying that this is a mistake as well.

These people weighing in is fine, except for one thing – they don’t live in Alaska.  Approaching this issue from a completely neutral position, one must truly examine the pros and cons.  The biggest pro for this project is that rural Bristol Bay is a very economically-depressed part of the state.

Due to the lack of available jobs and lack of income, suicide rates in Bristol Bay, particularly among their youth, have been staggeringly high.

“The southwest and northern parts of Alaska had a suicide rate three times higher than the statewide rate – about 60 suicides for every 100,000 people,” was written in an article in The Bristol Bay Times.  These numbers are shocking.

Despite what the environmentalists are saying, the fishing industry is not that big of a market.  Over the last few years, the income of the fishing industry has been over $100 million.  The estimated amount of mineral resources at the site is estimated at over $200 billion.

For a community that has such a small economy, that kind of money can go a long way.  For the environmentalists, that seems to almost be inconsequential.  The fact that communities have been shown to grow up around mines doesn’t seem to register.

Now, looking at the other argument, that this operation could have a huge negative effect on the salmon streams and all of Bristol Bay.  There is merit to this argument.  Mines do produce a lot of waste.  There was one opinion from an environmentalist that was pretty sound.

“If they can engineer it so it does not destroy salmon streams, by all means they can develop it.  Our contention is simply that this is trying to cast in concrete what Pebble Partnership has been saying all along, they won’t hurt salmon,” said Art Hackney, the spokesperson for Save the Salmon.

That is a good way to approach it, by being open to the idea, being reasonable.  The problem is that most of the people who have spoken out are just dismissing this entire venture off-hand.

“They make it sound like all fish will die if you don’t support the initiative,” said Lisa Reimers, the chief executive of the Illiamna Development Corp.

Of course, the vote has already been done.  It is already over.  So why talk about this?  Well, this issue is an allegory to what happens all the time in this country.  This issue stopped being about rational debate, and became a mission of values, and the people living there seem to have been forgotten.

Peace out,



Comments on: "The Pebble Mine Debate" (1)

  1. […] could talk about the political climate currently in Alaska.  The Pebble Mine debate is voted on.  I support Pebble, but that really is beside the point.  The liberals will lambast me, but […]

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