OPINION: Bristol Bay fisherman sees flaws Pebble Mine 'plan'
Fall storms are a fixture in Bristol Bay. The wind blows and the waves rise. But this fall, the biggest tempest of all is coming from the foreign mining company proposing to build a toxic mine at the headwaters of the world's last great salmon run.
This fall, Northern Dynasty and its subsidiary, the Pebble Limited Partnership, unveiled the so-called "smaller" Pebble Mine proposal. It received plenty of media attention. The company claims the new version of the project addresses stakeholder concerns and is more environmentally friendly than past plans. But this is just a charade.
Here in Bristol Bay, we see the proposal for what it is: a new version of the old story "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." The premise is pretty simple—if you give a mouse a cookie, he'll want milk to go with it, and before too long, the little mouse has made a mess of the house and left it all for you to cleanup.
That's exactly what Northern Dynasty will do in Bristol Bay. They'll start mining in one part of the deposit. But the company is beholden to its bottom line and its shareholders.
Over time, the project area will grow, and Northern Dynasty will extract every ounce of gold and copper from the Pebble deposit, leaving a mess of our land, water and fishery.
There are already indications the company is not being forthright about its intentions. While PLP pitched the "small" Pebble plan here in Alaska, Northern Dynasty executives told the rest of the world about a world-class gold and copper deposit that could sustain one of the world's largest mines for "generations." At a mining conference this fall, Northern Dynasty's CEO said the new plan was merely a "good start," and suggested Pebble would grow in due time. This isn't a surprise to those of us who have followed the issue for years. Northern Dynasty has been lying to Alaskans for more than a decade. They'll say whatever it takes to get that gold out of the ground.
In addition to assurances of a smaller mine, Pebble's new plan also includes vague promises to give locals $500 a year and "help the fishery." Pebble's own website states they have not prepared an economic feasibility draft on its new plan, a standard operating procedure in the industry. To residents of Bristol Bay, the fishery is not just about the jobs, food, and the income it provides—the fishery is also a way of life. It is how we teach who we are: hard work, patience, resilience and stewardship to the next generation. Why would we trade these values for a toxic, short-term industry that will leave our fleet high and dry? Pebble cannot seem to understand that our fishery doesn't have a price tag.
If Pebble cared about anything other than its bottom dollar; if it was trying to listen to the region as the company claims, it would know that the mine is not welcome here. Year after year, Bristol Bay's salmon return because we don't disturb the complex ecosystem that supports them.
We may not be rich with cash, but we have food in the freezer and the satisfaction that our livelihoods are sustainable. Pebble will never replace the sustainable fishery that is our heritage and our legacy.
Hattie Albecker lives and set-nets in Ugashik, Alaska. She dedicates much of her time to ensuring Bristol Bay remains a sustainable economic driver to Southwest Alaska for generations to come.