I am from Bristol Bay and watched Alaska Federation of Natives give the people of Bristol Bay a drubbing that I have not seen before. I realize that the initiative to protect water quality is far-reaching and could have a negative impact on the future of mining in the entire state of Alaska.
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However difficult the differences, AFN has always tried to find some middle ground on issues where there is serious disagreement.
As a past chair of AFN, I was pleased that people from Bristol Bay stood united and disappointed that AFN could not structure a more acceptable solution.
I am well aware of the revenue-sharing provisions between regional Native corporations in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act but the prospect of toxic material leaching into our waters from mining gives many of us pause. This is because Bristol Bay is the home of the largest wild salmon run in the world.
Many of us from Bristol Bay think that allowing mixing zones in Alaska under the previous administration is a very serious problem that needs to be changed back to more stringent water quality standards. In addition, the Coastal Zone Management program was gutted and needs to be fixed too.
Furthermore, the Alaska Habitat Division, which has historically been located in the Department of Fish and Game, now resides in the Department of Natural Resources. To me, this is like having the foxes guard the hen house. I don't think many people across the state feel comfortable with the Habitat Division remaining where it is.
Finally, it is not clear what the state's policy is on remediation after all of the metals are taken out of the ground. What are the bond requirements and what financial provisions are being planned for those whose livelihoods will be lost if toxic waste does leach into the ground and negatively impact those future wonderful salmon runs?
I hope that AFN and the state will work diligently and closely with the Bristol Bay people to come up with a more satisfactory outcome than what came out of Fairbanks. We all know that Bristol Bay people are divided on this issue. Many who oppose mining are not happy about the AFN outcome. Those who support mining are very pleased. I am flummoxed.
Nels Anderson Jr.