Refuge proposal complicates debate over Pebble mine

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A proposed game refuge in Bristol Bay that would honor one of Alaska's most beloved governors could stymie plans for a giant gold and copper mine in western Alaska.

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The Jay Hammond State Game Refuge proposal, introduced by state Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, covers a swath of 5 million to 7 million acres in the Bristol Bay headwaters, where Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. wants to dig a huge mine.

The Hammond refuge bill was introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 26 and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

But the halls of the Capitol are rumbling with talk of the Pebble mine and the bill has already prompted a rare visit to Juneau this week by the late governor's wife, Bella.

"I don't have all the answers about Pebble Mine, but one has to wonder if they're compatible, the fisheries and a mine of that magnitude," Bella Hammond said. "Before Jay died, he attended a meeting in the Iliamna area and he was quoted as saying he couldn't think of a worse place for a mine. I'll always remember that remark."

Hammond still lives in the Bristol Bay region at the family homestead at Lake Clark. They also kept a commercial fishing beach site in Naknek. Jay Hammond was governor from 1974 to 1982.

Another mine-related bill, introduced Wednesday, would penalize corporations up to $1 million per day for polluting Bristol Bay salmon streams.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, would fine anyone who dams up salmon-bearing water bodies in five river drainages in the area.

Both pro- and anti-mine forces have enlisted top lobbyists and are running big media campaigns with well-known Alaskans as spokespeople.

The Bristol Bay region is home to the world's biggest sockeye salmon fishery, and its headwaters provide the most famous unspoiled trout fishing in North America.

Northern Dynasty says the area has potential to be one of the largest mines in the world and could provide an economic boost to the region.

Passage of Stevens' bill would likely foreclose development of any mine and could block other types of resource development as well, Northern Dynasty officials said.

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