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Missing the point on Pebble Mine

Posted: November 14, 2013 - 1:08am

The Pebble Partnership lost a partner. The reasons given were economic. Rebecca Logan in her My Turn (published Oct. 23) used this turn of events to talk about permitting, jobs, the state of mining in general and legislation working through congress. For mining in general, these might be the right issues to talk about, but for the proposed Pebble Mine this discussion completely misses the point.

There is a huge problem with the Pebble Mine. This mine will create a massive toxic tailings pond. This could be the biggest toxic tailings pond in the world. There will be a series of dams and the pond will stretch for miles. The stuff that is going to end up in this pond is seriously nasty. Any Alaskan who has been paying attention to this issue knows that this pond is being built at the headwaters of two major salmon streams, and eventually, after joining with many other streams and rivers, they feed directly into Bristol Bay. If something goes wrong in the building or running of the mine we will be facing a major ecological disaster.

Pebble thinks that the mine could be built and run with no environmental problems, though I think this unlikely. For a moment though I will give them a break from my doubt. Let’s say they build it and everything works perfectly and the mine runs for 40 or 50 years. Then what? The toxic tailings pond is forever. It doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t evaporate. It will be there forever. It will never be anything but a toxic tailings pond. Whether the mine runs for 60 years or 200 years or 600 years makes no difference.

If the Pebble Partnership monitors this pond and these dams for 1000 years or 5000 years that is still not enough. Nothing will change. Once created this is forever. To talk about long-term jobs in terms of 50, 75 or 100 years is short sighted. I think of the mines in Colorado and other places that after 150 years are leaking contaminates into local water sources. The scale of the Pebble Mine makes comparison impossible. It will be bigger than any mine ever. Will Pebble be around in 500 years to keep on eye on things? How about 1500 years? Highly unlikely. These may seem like extremist numbers, but they don’t even begin to tell the story. The threatened salmon have been around for thousands of years. Native peoples have lived in that area for 10,000 years and still these timeframes pale when compared to the danger lurking in the Pebble Pond. We are talking forever.

Stonehenge was abandoned 5000 years ago. It is older than that. When those huge stones crumble to dust The Pebble Pond will still be just as dangerous as it was when the first chemicals flowed into it.

Can anyone believe that as the years and centuries go by, as the world changes in ways we can’t even imagine, that this pond will be monitored and the dams fixed and upgraded as they deteriorate? Someday something is going to go wrong — even if that isn’t for 3000 years. When that happens, life will change for all Alaskans.

We have to stop thinking short-term on things that will affect the future. Once the Pebble mine starts there is no turning back. Once the toxic tailings are created, you can’t change your mind if things aren’t working out right.

What’s my dream for the Pebble Mine? I hope the company wakes up one day, realizes the terrible thing they are about to inflict on Alaska, apologizes to all of us who live here, cleans up their mess and goes away.

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