ANCHORAGE - Alaskans in the primary election will vote on Ballot Measure 4, an initiative that opponents say will kill large-scale mining in Alaska but supporters say will save Bristol Bay's wild salmon streams from a toxic spill at the Pebble Mine.
Supporters of Ballot Measure 4 say it is needed to protect the world's most productive wild salmon streams from Pebble, a huge gold and copper deposit in southwest Alaska.
"It is deceptive and defective, this ballot measure," said Cynthia Toohey, campaign chairwoman for Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, the group leading the opposition. "I am concerned it will shut down all mining."
Opponents claim that the initiative poses a serious threat to Alaska's economy. They say mining accounts for over 5,500 jobs and nearly $200 million a year in state and local tax revenues.
Supporters say the bigger threat is to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which they say provides more than 12,000 jobs and contributes over $250 million annually to Alaska's economy.
They say one toxic spill from the mine could permanently damage the state's reputation for producing untainted, healthy fish.
"Location, location, location," said Dave Atcheson, a commercial fisherman and member of the Renewable Resources Coalition, when asked why he is opposed to the mine. "It is too great a resource to risk."
Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown has received nearly all of its contributions from the Council of Alaska Producers, a group of mining companies. The Pebble Partnership, a coalition of the two mining companies trying to develop Pebble, is a large contributor to the Council of Alaska Producers, giving them over $3 million dollars in July.
On the other side is Alaskans for Clean Water Inc., a group that includes commercial and sport fishermen, Alaska Natives, Native villages, lodge owners, hunters and others.
Alaskans for Clean Water has received under $1 million this summer, with the Alexandria, Va.-based Americans for Job Security, a pro-jobs, anti-tax organization, contributing a large amount of money, at least $750,000 in the weeks ahead of the election.
Two companies, London-based Anglo American and Vancouver, Can.-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop Pebble. Preliminary drilling indicates Pebble is a world-class deposit of gold, copper and molybdenum.