ANCHORAGE— A crowd of around 100 protestors gathered at the rain-swept Hotel Captain Cook on Monday to denounce a meeting of the Pebble Mine Partnership, a group that is controversially planning to construct a gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.
The protesters; however, missed their mark, as according to the Alaska News Dispatch, the Pebble Mine Partnership relocated their meeting to a neighboring facility.
The meeting was the first of a new advisory committee set up by the Partnership, which offers a $30,000 honorarium to locals willing to join the six-person group. The committee currently consists of three locals, a former Air Force general, a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official, and a former president of the League of Conservation Voters.
Opponents of the project say the mine would place toxic ponds and chemicals in the headwaters that Alaska’s recreational and commercial fishermen depend on for survival, noting a commercial catch of more than 37 million sockeye salmon this season alone.
Meanwhile, the most recent reports from Alaska Fish & Game placed the King Salmon harvest at over 6.6 million in 2017.
Mining advocates say the gold in Bristol Bay is worth more than $300 billion.
Clean Water Rollback Opens Doors for Mining
In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a determination under the Clean Water Act to make the area off-limits to mining. However, following the wake of EPA rollbacks from the Trump Administration, the path is clearing for Pebble Mine to proceed. In May, the EPA settled an ongoing lawsuits with Pebble Limited Partnership, opening the door for federal permit application for the mine, despite push-back from local fishermen, Alaskan Native groups, and conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited.
Mining officials have promised to reduce the scale of their proposed project, with emphasis on the conservation issues that mired their development in U.S. courts for years. However, opponents say that’s not enough; that the mine will threaten salmon runs and could destroy the ecosystem of Bristol Bay.
“The people, cultures, and thousands of fish-based businesses in Bristol Bay rely on clean water,” Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program Director Nelli Williams released in a statement. “As the largest potential risk to the water and salmon of Bristol Bay, we studied Pebble’s plans closely. Through clear science, we see that there is no way for Pebble to safely operate a gold and copper mine alongside wild salmon runs in Bristol Bay, regardless of how large or small the project may be pitched over the coming months. Pebble has asked us for input, and we’ve given it to them time and again: Pebble Mine is not welcome, and is not worth the risk to the greatest fishing region in Alaska. We are unsure of how to be any clearer than that.”
United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley told the gathered crowd that they’d scared away the committee. However, Partnership officials maintain the meeting was moved because of construction at the original location.
“The Pebble Limited Partnership was having an advisory committee here today,” said Hurley. “It was a closed door private meeting, and Bristol Bay unilaterally said no. We will not participate in a discussion of how to build the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. We scared them away, and they moved to a different location. They are literally hiding from Alaskans on the discussion of Pebble Mine.”
Former Alaskan State Senator added, “They know they don’t have local support. They don’t have Alaskans and they don’t have Bristol Bay residents by 90 percent. The fact is that salmon are life to Bristol Bay. They feed everything from the tiniest microorganism to the brown bear. They feed the heart, the soul and the faith of everybody there. And they feed the dreams of people worldwide.”