Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pebble Mine Update: Battle Lost / War Rages

Last week while standing knee deep in a massive sockeye salmon run throwing egg and occasional mouse patterns to wild rainbow trout, very few things worried me. For the most part I was content to concern myself with drag free drifts, radical application of bug spray, the landing fish, and keeping abreast of the position of the area's resident grizzly bears.

I found myself not really thinking about the proposed Pebble Mine project and plans to plop a cyanide laced tailing pond and world's largest open pit mine right in the middle of what I now know first hand to be one of the world's best fisheries. In Anchorage it had been top of mind as our hotel television was filled with ads imploring Alaskans to vote for the clean water act and against the "mining shutdown" as the opp/for would have it spun. Even more signs began showing up just as soon as we got off the air taxi in the village of Iliamna, Alaska.

Not "Black Helicopters" but no less nefarious

Iliamna is a town with a booming population of 102 people and oddly enough a rather busy airport. What made it different from many of the other back country landing strips I had seen was the seemingly never ending stream of helicopters carrying under slung cargo from the tiny air terminal to an unknown location. Later I would learn from my fishing guide that most of these loads were destined for the "Pebble Project."

The signs were visible on our lodge's jet boats in the form of No Pebble Mine stickers on each bow. Talk around the dinner table was of the fellow who came to the lodge by boat a few days before, on his way into Iliamna to cast his vote on Proposition 4. No one had asked him how he planned to vote but it was clear from the distance that he covered that he was quite committed to his point of view.

When I asked the lodge staff about the "Pebble Project" I got a lot of pained expressions and head shakes indicating that things could go very badly. When one guest asked about why the staff was so worried, a quick course in gold extraction and tailing ponds was given with emphasis on cyanide and its effect on salmon runs.

On one of our fly outs I overheard our pilot talking on the radio to a beaver pilot and asking where he was heading. The reply of "coming back from hauling some big wigs up to the Pebble Project" took my attention from a view of the American River in my window. I was reminded that this project is fast becoming an integral part of the economy of this region and that in and of itself is going to be difficult to fight.

One guest from another part of the world looked at me at one point during our stay and said that with the economy the way it is and the price of copper and gold so high, it's pretty much inevitable, isn't it?

A young fishing guide and exceptionally talented artist who's livelihood comes from fishing, made a point to ask me if, I was "planning to write something about the Pebble Mine?"

Sitting in my hotel room in Anchorage later that week nursing a bad chest cold and upon learning that the Clean Water Initiative failed by what some might call a large margin, I found myself worrying that if I ever made it back to this part of the world, it might turn out to be a very different place.

Copper River Rainbow (you'll just have to trust me about the front end of the tape)

Now for some good news from the midst of this cough syrup induced gloom, even with this major setback, support for the fight against the Pebble Project continues to grow thanks to groups like the Renewable Resources Coalition and the Sportsman's Alliance for Alaska who have garnered support from thousands of retailers, manufacturers, and outdoor enthusiasts. This quote from Scott Hed, Director of the Sportsman's Alliance sums things up nicely:

I’ve said it before, and it rings true today more than ever. Nothing worth saving comes without a fight. And the fight for Bristol Bay will continue to be a monumental battle that the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska is proud to engage in.

Editor's Note: More excellent information on this subject was recently posted by Tom Chandler over at Trout Underground. Be sure to read his take.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report. The Pending Pebble Mine Disaster will likely turn into one of those projects that boils down to a couple sound bites per side - a terrible way to make decisions.

Murdock said...


Well said - your post about the subject is spot on. I'll add links to it as an update item this evening. I was pretty amazed at the amount of money the Mining companies are trowing around out there. The fishing was great also :)