Alaska worth the fight

Posted: Thursday, July 23, 2009

Much has been written about the Pebble Mine. Millions of dollars have been spent on the debate over what the development of one of the world's largest open-pit mines will mean for Alaska's economy, its people, its resources, its future and Bristol Bay. However, one side of the story has not been told.


I've spent much of my life helping Alaska and Alaskans. But now the foreign companies developing Pebble Mine have stepped up their attacks on me, and it's important for you to hear, straight from the horse's mouth, why I think Bristol Bay is worth the fight.

First, I am not opposed to mining. I support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I fly a floatplane. I'm a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, an avid fisherman, successful businessman and lifelong Alaskan.

My life has been forged in this state. I grew up in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau, and often lived in part of the family store. My dad borrowed money to send me to college and I worked summers as a Teamster through the Local 959. I inherited my father's entrepreneurial spirit and I have been blessed with a beautiful family and a successful business.

I also inherited my father's Alaska pride, which is why I have been crazy enough to pick a fight with multi-billion dollar foreign mining giants. For more than 8,000 years, at least 350 generations of Alaskans have subsisted off the bounty of the Bristol Bay region. Fishing is a way of life, and for the better part of the last decade, fishing in Bristol Bay has added almost $400 million per year to Alaska's bottom line and employed nearly 7,000 equivalent yearround jobs. Even as we develop our other resources, we must, as Gov. Sarah Palin recently said, "maintain the integrity of our wild Alaska seafood brand, and the resource itself."

Open pit mining is a dirty, ugly business that will leave the land scarred forever. Scientists tell us that just three or four parts per billion of copper in freshwater leave salmon with a seriously impaired or nonexistent ability to find their way back to their spawning stream. In an area with volcanoes, earthquakes and typical 125 mph winds, copper dust from the open pit mine will certainly find its way into the water and destroy the salmon population.

The mine developers tell us the Pebble Mine will create an earthen dam 740 feet high -that's 200 feet higher than the Seattle Space Needle. The pit will be two and a half miles long, one and a half miles wide and a half mile deep - 1,500 feet below sea level. At its peak, the Pebble Mine will employ about 1,000 workers, generate billions of dollars for the foreign mining conglomerates and jeopardize nearly 7,000 "infinitely renewable" fishing jobs. When all the copper and gold is gone, we will be left with the largest earthen dam in the world holding back perhaps the largest toxic dump on earth. The mine developers will take our copper and gold, make their money and be gone. Alaska will be left with a devastated river drainage system, a toxic dump and no jobs.

The battle over Pebble Mine has not been a fight of equals. I was proud to join with hundreds of other Alaskans last year who helped financially support Alaska's Clean Water Initiative. We faced eight international mining giants that spent more than $13 million to defeat Ballot Measure 4. That skirmish was lost, but the fight for Bristol Bay continues.

The Alaska Constitution calls for our natural resources to be used for the "maximum benefit of (the state's) people." Why risk 54,000 seafood industry jobs for 1,000 mining jobs? Fish go on forever; the mine has a limited life. I am a money manager by trade and this equation makes no sense.

Most communities, let alone individuals, cannot afford to fight the mining corporations. I have been blessed by this great state and have the ability to put my money where my mouth is, and I plan to continue to do so. Bristol Bay is worth it.

• Bob Gillam is a lifelong Alaskan who has owned a home on Lake Clark for 25 years. He is an advocate and supporter of the fight against the proposed Pebble Mine.

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