Why is it that when something happens in my neighborhood, everyone wants to speak up and try to influence what happens?
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Case in point, the possible open-pit and underground mine that we have come to know as "Pebble," being touted by Northern Dynasty Mines as the world's second-largest-known deposit of copper, gold, molybdenum and silver. Some folks went as far as starting a new organization called "The Truth about Pebble."
Allow me to give some well-deserved kudos to Northern Dynasty. It has spent a nice sum of money within the Bristol Bay region to help develop a mine in a very sensitive area. This investment has benefited Iliamna and Newhalen businesses, including air taxis, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, stores, some of our state's finest consulting firms and a number of local residents. This influx has greatly helped our neighbors make a living for their families. For this, I take my hat off and pat Northern Dynasty on the back.
Oops, I almost forgot the most important kudo: Northern Dynasty has been able to bring all fishermen to the same table in agreement. A majority of sport, commercial and subsistence fishermen have voiced opposition to the idea of an open-pit mine in the rich-nutrient spawning grounds of Bristol Bay. In my short life span, I must admit this is quite a feat.
Alaska is so big. Different regions of the state bring different items of interest to the table. The North Slope brings oil and gas. Southeast Alaska brings timber and cruise ships. Southcentral and the Interior have the connected land base, highways and the majority of the population. Whereas, the Southwest, peninsula and Aleutians bring in the fish.
Bristol Bay boasts the world's largest wild commercial salmon fishery, a large herring fishery and is the breeding ground for numerous other marine wildlife and fisheries. The nutrients that come from and out of the Bristol Bay watersheds feed a multi-million, if not billion-dollar, natural ecosystem that feeds the world.
It has always been this way. It always has been important. If you stop and seriously think about it, fish were coming out of Bristol Bay and supporting the economy long before oil was flowing from the North Slope and cruise ships were sailing through the Inside Passage, bringing millions of tourists to Alaska.
The Bristol Bay fishery was so important that the seventh Legislature enacted the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve to help protect such a vital and sensitive renewable industry. I do not understand what has changed so drastically in the past 35 years to make my fish less desirable and unnecessary so that folks just want to push them off to the side and destroy their home.
I am so happy to be living in such a beautiful state and country. A place where we are able to practice our rights such as the freedom of speech and the right to express one's opinion without fear of retribution. It amazes me that some seem to feel that this right is somehow halting progress. It's their right to think this way, but it's not their right to tell me I can't say what I want to or feel the way I do.
I can't help that mining has a very bad reputation (some say a well-deserved reputation because of past practices).
I also can't help but feel that this is my home. It's where I want to live, and where I have raised my children. I can't help but speak up and want to protect something that has been and still is very sensitive, important and possibly the only one of its kind left in the world - a wild, pristine commercial salmon fishery!
And that my friend is the truth about the truth.
Billy Maines is a resident of Dillingham.
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