Alaska editorial: Pebble mine project worthy of consideration

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Of course, there will be impacts. Yes, there will be change to communities.

There will be no end to the environmental monitoring.

On the other hand, the Pebble Project, a Northern Dynasty Mines proposal to develop an open-pit gold, copper, molybdenum and silver mine near Iliamna, also stands to bring jobs - lots of jobs - and other opportunities to Alaska and Alaskans.

Do the rewards outweigh the risks?

It's too early to tell.

But it's not too early for discussion about the project and its potential to harm and to help.

In fact, if the mine does proceed into the operation phase, which would not occur until at least 2010, it is these early discussions with all stakeholders - essentially all Alaskans - that will be key to shaping and ensuring that the mine's benefits far outweigh any damage caused by mining activity.

Some Alaskans already have decided the mine would be a bad thing, that no matter what the rewards, the risks are too great. They point to mining atrocities elsewhere that the Pebble Project is not worth a gamble.

They should wait until the specifics of the project are unveiled to pass judgment. It's still early in the process. There are lots of unknowns. Too many questions still need to be answered. Any number of things could happen.

Much to its credit, Northern Dynasty is reaching out to Alaskans and is asking stakeholders to hold the company accountable. Its policies on responsible mineral development and local hire are in writing and easily available so Alaskans can do just that. Among those policies:

• "Northern Dynasty is committed to developing the Pebble Project in a manner that conserves and protects the local environment, optimizes benefits for local communities, and addresses local issues and concerns."

• "The Pebble Project will create employment and business opportunities at every stage of its development - from development through construction, mine operations and closure. Northern Dynasty is committed to ensuring that these opportunities benefit local communities, local business and local people in the immediate project area, in the Bristol Bay region and throughout the state of Alaska."

Sure that kind of stuff is good PR. It's also good business. And it provides Alaskans with a gauge to measure Northern Dynasty's stated intentions with its actions.

It would be foolish to say that the mine would not change Alaska's fabric of life, particularly in the Iliamna Lake region.

As Ella Ede, the project manager for Northern Dynasty Mines, told a Homer Chamber of Commerce audience earlier this week: "You don't have a project of this size without impacts."

That's why it's important for Alaskans to stay informed about the project. It's important to ask questions. It's vital to talk with company officials, the communities in the mine region and others about not only environmental consequences, but also the socio-economic ones.

Company officials have invited the dialogue, and it's the responsibility of Alaskans to take them up on their offer.

More discussion is needed. More answers are needed. Tough decisions lie ahead.

But it's too soon to close the door on any possibility.

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