Empire Editorial: On second thought, vote yes on 4

On Oct. 30, 2014, this newspaper advocated a no vote on Ballot Measure 4. Unfortunately and regrettably, that position was based on an incomplete understanding of how Ballot Measure 4 works. This newspaper regrets this lack of understanding and after further study, this newspaper believes that Ballot Measure 4 should be supported because it brings about another level of protection unique and necessary for the Bristol Bay fisheries.

 

Voting yes on allot Measure 4 will do nothing more than require large-scale mines to meet the standard that has applied to oil and gas exploration for 40 years – avoiding irreparable harm to vital Bristol Bay fisheries.

Bristol Bay, with its many rivers, lakes, and streams, produces wild salmon on a scale and of a quality unmatched by any other place on Earth. Bristol Bay’s annual production of 31 million sockeye salmon amounts to one-third of the world’s supply. It is the world’s largest and most valuable wild salmon fishery. Unlike other salmon-producing regions, this fishery is 100% wild and has never been supported by hatchery-grown fish. It is truly a one-of-a-kind region.

Bristol Bay salmon are critical to Alaska’s economy. The sport and commercial fisheries support 10,000 jobs—with an annual economic impact in Alaska between $318 and $578 million—nationwide, that impact is $1.5 billion.

Thousands of local residents depend on the annual salmon run to support their way of life, as it has for generations.

Bristol Bay’s fishery can continue to provide economic and cultural benefits and cultural benefits far into the future if Ballot Measure 4 is passed.

In 1972, the Alaska Legislature created the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. The watershed of the Reserve includes critical rivers and streams and portions of two national parks and one state park. Ballot Measure 4 would affect only about 5% of Alaska’s total area.

To protect the Reserve, the legislature inserted one additional step for oil and gas developers seeking drilling permits in the region—the developers had to demonstrate that their activities would not endanger the Reserve’s salmon, and the economy dependent upon them.

If the developers met their burden, the elected representatives of Alaskans (and not unelected bureaucrats) would authorize the activity. To this day, the Reserve is the only one in Alaska.

Ballot Measure 4 simply takes that same standard—a standard that has applied to oil and gas activities for 40 years — and applies it to large-scale metallic sulfide mining.

Large-scale metallic sulfide mining in Bristol Bay is currently being pursued in the form of Pebble Mine. Mining of this type produces chemicals that could harm the surrounding waters in a manner uniquely toxic to salmon. Such mining would also require massive amounts of such toxic substances to be stored in or near the Reserve forever. No mine of Pebble’s size has ever been developed without polluting the surrounding groundwater.

Given that mining of this type is being proposed in the heart of the world’s greatest salmon-producing watersheds, it is vital that Alaskans vote yes on Ballot Measure 4 to protect the Fishery.

Ballot Measure 4 will not prohibit any project. The only change in the process is that, after design and permitting, a final project will be presented to the Legislature. This will allow public hearings and testimony, both by scientific experts and by those who will be most affected – local subsistence users, commercial fishermen, and lodge owners. Following thee hearings and testimony, the Legislature could only approve the project if it found the project would not constitute any danger to the Reserve’s fishery.

If a project will not endanger Bristol Bay, then Ballot Measure 4 will not stop it. However, the measure provides a necessary safeguard against any project that would destroy a priceless resource. Just this summer, at British Columbia’s Mount Polley Mine – a modern mine, dsigned by Pebble’s own engineering firm – a catastrophic failure of the tailings dam occurred. We cannot risk such a catastrophe in the heart of Bristol Bay.

Given the continued existence of a vast mining district at the headwaters of Bristol Bay – this safeguard is necessary regardless of whether the Pebble Mine goes forward. Ballot Measure 4 is about more than defeating a single project – it is about protecting the priceless riches of Bristol Bay for future generations.

Vote yes on Ballot Measure 4 — vote yes for salmon.

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