Gillam: Pebble will 'destroy' salmon run, Bristol Bay

Mine will jeopardize an industry that employs more than 6,000 people annually, businessman says

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Pebble Mine is "a Trojan horse that should not be allowed through the gates of Bristol Bay." Pollution is "virtually certain." Wind, weather and seismic activity ensure there is "zero probability" a dam filled with billions of tons of tailings will remain safely contained in perpetuity.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

That was the message by Alaska millionaire, businessman and Pebble Mine opponent Bob Gillam during a presentation sponsored by the Rotary Club of Juneau on Tuesday.

He said a business with a finite lifetime that will employ about 1,000 people at its peak will jeopardize an industry that employs more than 6,000 people annually in "infinitely renewable" fishing jobs, in an area that supplies a large amount of the world's salmon and in which Alaska Natives having been fishing for thousands of years.

Gillam made an emphatic, information-laden presentation on the dangers Pebble Mine presents to Bristol Bay at the meeting. Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively will be coming to the club's meeting March 16 to present the other side of the issue.

"This is not about mining. This is about this mine in this place," said Gillam, who said he is pro-mining, provided financing for Greens Creek mine and invests in mines.

He pointed to a January 2007 issue of Science magazine, which had a cover article that said a two parts per billion increase in copper in water can impair salmon's smell and ability to find their way home.

He pointed to large mines' typical environmental impact surveys - 100 percent of major mine permits in the last 25 years say they will not pollute water, according to information Gillam presented. Seventy-five percent of the time they were wrong, and of that, two-thirds of the time the problems couldn't fix it, he said.

"Probability theory is that you will have a problem," he said.

That holds true for the dam, too, he said.

"Is anything that you know in perpetuity, except the good Lord? And if this becomes not in perpetuity, what do you lose? The world's greatest salmon run," Gillam said. "It only needs to break once."

Pebble Partnership Vice President for Public Affairs Mike Heatwole said the mine will have to secure at least 67 state and federal permits before it is licensed, and the dam will be "a very, very highly engineered structure."

"There are stringent resource requirements for the state of Alaska," he said. "Before this project could go forward, it will be heavily scrutinized by each regulatory agency."

Heatwole also said as the company has yet to create a development plan and that much is uncertain, including if it would be an open pit mine or an underground block cave.

Gillam said the state has never turned down a major mine license.

He also said 82 percent of Bristol Bay residents are opposed to the mine. The Bristol Bay Native Corporation voted to oppose it in December.

Renewable Resources Coalition Executive Director Anders Gustafson, who introduced Gillam, said they have spoken in Hillside, Anchorage and Sitka, among other places, and would welcome speaking anywhere in the state.

"This is all about ... pursuing our work to educate the public about the dangers of Pebble Mine," he said.

Rotary Club guest Kate Troll said she thought Gillam "hit all the high points in a very persuasive manner."

"It's not the typical fight," she said. "It's renewable resources versus non-renewable resources."

Rotarian Heather Mitchell said she liked how Gillam encouraged people to do their own research, but she's waiting to hear from Pebble before making up her mind. "I look forward to comparing and contrasting," she said.

Rotary Club of Juneau President Warren Russell said it was good to have people from both sides come to Juneau to talk about the mine.

"Granted, it's happening in Bristol Bay, but it impacts everyone," he said.

Some of the information Gillam presented is available at Pebble Partnership's Web site is

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or

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