My turn: Bristol Bay is big enough

It's possible for both sides in Pebble Mine dispute to get what they want

Posted: Friday, April 27, 2007

The Pebble Mine may be a great opportunity to boost Alaska's economy or it may bring about the destruction of a world-class fishery. Therefore, we must thoroughly scrutinize the positives and negatives.

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I feel I understand many of the pertinent questions that need to be addressed because I'm a former commercial fisherman, sport fisherman and a hunter in the Bristol Bay area. Also, I've been a power generation and water treatment operator, a holder of an open-pit mining certificate and supervisor of a bulk ship loading operation.

I favor protecting the Iliamna/Bristol Bay fishery resources from irreparable damage. Likewise, I support using natural resources in a prudent and reasonable manner. How then do we enable the mining to proceed without threatening the region's other resources? After careful consideration, I believe necessary steps must be taken.

First, the mine tailing and retention reservoir must be built, so a failure for any reason would spill the liquid into the open-pit mine and not into the Iliamna drainage. Let the mine be at risk, not the fisheries.

Second, if 100 percent water recycling is required and implemented from the beginning, the demand upon the raw water sources, the amount of processing liquids generated and storage requirements would be greatly reduced.

Third, 25 percent of all of the gross value extracted from the mine needs to be placed in escrow until the mine is closed and approved by the state. If the mine operator defaults on the cleanup, the escrow account would be forfeited to the state for the specific use of closing the mine and restoring the area and other damaged resources.

Fourth, the increase in power demand should not be detrimental to the rest of the state. Also the cost of running power to the mine site should be borne by the primary user. Small mines in Alaska do not receive any development subsidies, and neither should large ones.

I have not heard much effort being exerted by parties from either side of the Pebble Mine argument to understand the other side's perspective. I think it is possible for both sides to get virtually everything they want. Sport and commercial fishing should not be destroyed just for a profit. I do not begrudge the lodge and business owners' desires to protect their revenue stream. Likewise, I do not believe that ecologically safe mining followed by adequate restoration should be stopped.

All sides are seeking to increase their balance sheet, and that is not wrong. Nor should their position be considered sacrosanct. Someone said, "Follow the money." It seems everyone is trying to mine a Bristol Bay resource of their own choosing.

The citizens of Alaska need to visualize themselves as a trustee and user of the bounty of Alaska, either from a consumptive or appreciative viewpoint, or both. Let the project proceed; yet with enough safeguards to protect the surrounding area. Just make sure the environment, our people and the state don't get the shaft.

• Monte Smith is a resident of Soldotna.

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