Voters lean in favor of mining

Voters lean in favor of mining

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Alaskans were given an option Tuesday when voting on the Clean Water Initiative in the primary election: mining or fish. They decided on mining.

With 70 percent of the precincts reporting, the measure lost with more than 57 percent of voters rejecting it.

Ballot Measure 4 would have imposed two water quality standards on any new large-scale mines in Alaska. It would have restricted large, new mines from releasing toxic pollutants into water that would adversely affect the health of humans or salmon.

The ballot measure defined toxic pollutants as substances that will cause death and disease in humans and fish.

Opponents of the initiative said if passed, the measure would kill large-scale mining in Alaska.

Supporters said the initiative was needed to save Bristol Bay's wild salmon streams from the Pebble Mine, a huge copper and gold deposit poised for development near Bristol Bay.

Location is the problem. Pebble is near some of the world's most productive salmon streams.

Opponents say the initiative poses a serious threat to Alaska's economy. They say mining accounts for more than 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 more than $250 million annually to Alaska's economy.

They say one toxic spill from the mine in an earthquake prone area could permanently damage the state's reputation for producing untainted, healthy fish.

Tim Bristol, the Alaska program director for Trout Unlimited, said Tuesday's results were "definitely" disappointing. He said he knew it was going to be an uphill fight and that Gov. Sarah Palin's statement of opposition to the measure a few days ago had really hurt the measure's chances.

"She broke the heart of a lot people who love and depend on Bristol Bay salmon," Bristol said.

Bristol and Lindsey Bloom, a commercial fisherman from Juneau who fishes in Bristol Bay said the results were encouraging in that they showed that the public was more aware of the potential problems of Pebble Mine.

"I think it's progress," Bloom said. "I don't think it's an end."

Tom Henderson, general manager of Kensington Mine north of Juneau, said he was pleased with the results because they signaled a strong support for the mining industry in Alaska.

"We can count on being able to develop resources in the Southeast responsibly," Henderson said.

Liz Arnold, Juneau's coordinator for the mining group that opposed the measure, said Juneau's miners had been helpful in campaigning.

"People were very engaged," Arnold said. "That had an impact on the entire community."

Mark Johnson, co-owner of Vicky's Joke Shop in Juneau, said the state of Alaska already has the regulations needed to protect water quality and fish.

"I don't think we need any more bureaucracy," he said.

• The Juneau Empire contributed to the report.

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