An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Posts tagged ‘Lake and Peninsula Borough’

Anti-Pebble Initiative Approved, but was that the right thing?

It was in the Anchorage Daily News today – how the anti-Pebble Mine initiative was approved.  It was pretty clear, given the amount of press coverage that the Pebble Project had that this was going to not only be a big event for Alaska, but also for the country.  It is almost ironic how this whole affair became less and less about the people of the community, and more about a values system.  As a rational person, one must ask the very important question – was the fact that this initiative passed the right thing?

Now, this initiative passing does NOT mean that the mine will never be built.  People seem to believe that this vote will end this debate once and for all.  That myth needs immediate debunking.  In fact, the Pebble Partnership intends to challenging this in court next week.  The Pebble Partnership seems to be of the mindset that this vote will be defeated in court.

To anyone who followed this debate closely, it quickly devolved from a rational discussion about what is best for Lake and Peninsula Borough, to a campaign of fear mongering and misleading the voters.  This was on both sides.  The tragedy is that neither side is innocent here.  For a left-leaning voter, that can be a bit of an annoyance, because the goal of liberal political activists should be to encourage rational debate, even if that can never happen.

However, the ultimate thing to be considered is this – what about those living in Lake and Peninsula Borough?  Quite sadly, the fishing industry in Southwest is not the glorious money-maker that those who were part of the Save the Salmon group seemed to miss.  The fact is that the estimated income of the fishing industry is over $100 million.  While that sounds like a lot, the problem is that a lot of that income is not going to the community.  In fact, most of the Limited Entry Permits in Bristol Bay are to out of state companies, so the profits are going to them.

While the subsistence fishing is a valid risk to consider, if the bulk of profits for commercial fishing are going out of state, how does that help Lake and Peninsula?  There is a real Catch-22 here – how did the anti-Pebble groups convince people that more money is a bad thing?

Those who were proponents of Pebble were showing how over 1,000 long-term jobs could be created.  In an area that is economically depressed like Lake and Peninsula Borough, this could be a great thing.  However, the battle went out of state, and then the message got totally lost.

It vaguely seems reminiscent of how the Exxon Valdez crisis was handled.  Exxon apologized to the New York Times about it, which made Alaskans very, very angry.  It was talking to people who didn’t live here about things that they didn’t care about.  It totally ignored the issue – that this was an Alaskan issue, and the focus needed to be on Alaska.

When people like Robert Redford weigh in, it is easy to get lost in the celebrity attention.  And it worked, apparently.  Celebrities saying things about a state that they don’t live in got to a lot of people.

The real question now becomes – how exactly do those who are against Pebble propose fixing the economic depression that Lake and Peninsula, or rather, all of Rural Alaska is in?  How exactly do they tell the people who are without significant opportunity for jobs that having less of them is a good thing?  Subsistence is the one major good argument that has been made against Pebble, because getting food is very difficult in rural Alaska, but what about jobs?

If most of the commercial fishing permits are for out of state companies, how is that helping the residents of Bristol Bay?  After all the talks about the salmon, the wildlife, and how Bristol Bay “doesn’t want Pebble,” that is the real problem.  Pebble may not have been perfect, it may not have been the right answer, but when they are saying that $200+ billion are underneath the ground in Lake and Peninsula Borough, how can people look the impoverished community members in the eye and tell them that not doing what is right for their community is the right thing to do?

It is good to be environmentally conscious, but the fact is that something has to be done.  Alright you anti-Pebble people, now the ball is in your court – if Pebble isn’t the answer – what is?

Peace out,

Lefty

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,

Lefty

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