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Officials Speak in Kodiak on Proposition Four, Bristol Bay Forever

Jason Sear

Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell met with representatives from around the state in Kodiak this month to discuss ballot proposal four, which would prohibit mining projects if harmful to wild salmon in fisheries reserves. 

The Bristol Bay fisheries reserve was created in 1972, right at the beginning of the oil boom.  The reserve stated that any oil and gas leasing in the region would also be subject to an approval of the legislature.  Executive director of the Renewable Resources Foundation Anders Gustafson was at the meeting in Kodiak.  He spoke on behalf of environmentalists in favor of proposition four. 

Gustafson said he and his group were confused as to why there are thousands of miles of mining claims in the region, despite the fisheries reserve.

“We determined that the fisheries reserve had only been created only for the threat of oil and gas. And that was because it was created in 1972 and that was long long before anything like Pebble Mine was ever discovered or talked about in the area. The effort has been put forth to try to amend this existing legislation that is specific to the Bristol Bay watershed and does not affect other areas of the state, to amend it to be meeting the current threats that we consider to be a threat to the Bristol bay fishery.”

Gustafson made it clear that prop four would only effect large mining projects, it will not effect what he called “mom and pop” mines.

Deputy Director of the Alaska Miners Association Alicia Amberg was also in attendance at the meeting.  She and her group are opposed to ballot measure four because she said the state of Alaska and US government already have measures in place to protect the environment. 

“The problem with citizen initiatives is that they have too many unknowns and this is no exception. It brings uncertainty to Alaska’s investment climate and sets a bad precedent that can easily creep into other venues in Alaska. It will certainly pose additional burdens to the legislature and permitting agencies without any added benefits to the environment.”

Amberg said prop four will not stop Pebble Mine.  If the project were to submit the plan and still pass the permitting process, she believes any denial from the legislature would be purely political.

However, commercial fisherman Toby Sullivan has other concerns.  He believes a size of this mine would not provide enough reward for the amount of risk involved. As a fisherman during the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill, he said he’s been through a situation like this where there is no real plan for the worst case scenario.

“I see the same process with Pebble, there’s a fight whether they’ll build the mine, we’ll see how that turns out. But there’s no process for if the mine fails, if the dam fails. We saw what happened at Mt. Polley this summer in British Columbia. It’s my understanding the dam that would hold back the toxic waste is ten times bigger than that. As far as I can tell there’s no process and no administration of any kind to deal with the spill if the dam failed, and no way to compensate all the fishermen and all the industries that would lose a lot of money if that dam failed.”

Treadwell will continue to have meetings across the state to hear opinions and testimony from those concerned about prop four.