My turn: Getting the truth out about Pebble

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007

One month ago, I joined the board of a group called Truth About Pebble because I was bothered by the amount of misinformation being peddled by individuals who want to stop the Pebble project before it has a chance to even apply for the 67 permits that will be required for the mine to be developed.

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And while our work has just begun, it is obvious to me that there is much to be done to correct all the misinformation. An example is the recent column authored by Barbara Belknap (Feb. 16).

Now more than ever, we should all be concerned about Alaska's economic future, particularly if those who believe as Belknap stated, that we should "stop the Pebble Mine right now." Entertaining such an ill-founded notion would be costly to Alaskans on many levels.

First, a legislative legal opinion has stated that to disallow Northern Dynasty Minerals the right to go through the permitting process would provide the basis for a "takings" claim. With Northern Dynasty's recent announcement about the increased volume of ore at Pebble East, the estimate of the mineral value that could potentially be at risk totals $200 billion.

Do Alaskans really want to "stop the Pebble Mine right now" and open themselves up to a takings claim that would bankrupt our state? I believe we should allow this project to go through the process established under law.

If Northern Dynasty goes through the process and can prove its mine is environmentally sound, then those who oppose the mine can be assured their environmental concerns will be addressed.

Second, what sort of chilling message does this send to other businesses looking to invest in Alaska? It's bad enough that when a mine does get permitted, as in the Kensington property, some Alaskans sue them to stop the mine, and potentially kill the associated jobs. But now we're not even going to afford companies the right to go through the process?

I am puzzled by Belknap's automatic assumptions that Alaska seafood's brand will be tarnished if this project is developed. She's assuming disaster, which is quite simply unfair. Has the so-called Alaska brand suffered because TeckCominco and NANA are providing jobs to residents of the Northwest Arctic Borough at the world's largest zinc mine, Red Dog?

Has the Alaska brand suffered because North America's largest oil field, Prudhoe Bay, has been producing for more than 40 years?

I would urge my fellow Alaskans when they read articles and ads about the Pebble project, to make sure they're getting correct information. The dams at Pebble would not be the largest in the world. In fact, they're not even in the top 20 largest dams in the world. The tailings embankment would hold significant rock and ground-up rock with a 70-foot lens of water on top.

And to allege that this mine would ruin the "perception of Alaska as a wild and pristine place" is ludicrous. To put that issue in perspective, the Pebble project imprint is projected to be 15 square miles or less than 1 percent of the entire Bristol Bay Region.

With respect to the mine itself, a significant error has been made in Belknap's assertion that the primary product of the Pebble Mine would be gold. Untrue. The mine is projected to be a deposit of 60 percent copper, which is a strategic mineral used in a wide variety of products including energy efficient vehicles; 30 percent gold and 10 percent molybdenum - a key ingredient in pipelines, something we are all focused on at this point in time.

And to put into perspective her assertions that the project would be finite and produce jobs for a brief period of time, the mine life is now projected to be 50 to 100 years - or several generations of Alaskans. Prudhoe Bay has been operating for 40 years, and the Red Dog Mine has been operating since late 1989 and has a projected mine life of 23 years.

In closing, I'd like to quote Gov. Sarah Palin's State of the State speech - "So, we must look to responsible development throughout the state - from the slope all the way through and down to Southeast - every region participating! From further oil and gas development, to fishing, mining, timber and tourism, these developments remain the core of our state."

• Ginger Johnson is a former state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities employee, a Truth About Pebble Board member and Juneau resident.

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