Pebble Mine voted down by Bristol Bay but still looms as a threat

Bristol Bay Alaska

Developers can never again claim that residents of Alaska’s Lake and Peninsula Borough want them to build the dangerous Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

In a major victory for opponents of the mine, voters in the Bristol Bay region have passed the Save Our Salmon initiative, which would prohibit the borough from issuing permits for mining projects that would threaten to destroy salmon habitat.

Pebble Limited Partnership hopes to develop the mine roughly 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and just north of Iliamna. Pebble Mine would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, involving the excavation of billions of tons of raw ore containing copper, gold and molybdenum.

The mine would threaten the largest remaining wild sockeye salmon run in the world, which sustains the world’s richest commercial wild-salmon fishery; the habitat for tens of millions of salmon that spawn in the streams of the Bristol Bay watershed; and the subsistence ways of life of Alaska Natives who depend on fishing to feed their families. Sixty-five percent of the borough’s residents Alaska Natives, and most continue to practice traditional subsistence fishing activities that have sustained their people and culture for thousands of years.

The issue will now head to court in November because Pebble Limited Partnership has challenged the initiative’s legality. So has the state of Alaska, which claims authority over the development of natural resources belongs to the legislature, not local governments.

Concern that Pebble Mine could cause an environmental catastrophe in Alaska has unified a vast coalition of sport and subsistence-fishing interests, commercial fishermen and seafood processors, Native groups, former state and federal regulators and elected officials, conservation groups, and even churches.

Pebble Limited Partnership, which includes Northern Dynasty Minerals and the giant mining company Anglo American, has waged its own public relations campaign to convince the public that the mine would be an economic boon to the Lake and Peninsula Borough region.

But when local residents mailed in their ballots over the past few weeks, the majority approved the initiative 280 to 246.

What chance does a relatively small group of voters have against an international juggernaut willing to spend millions of dollars trying to force the construction of an open-pit mine in such a rare and special place? We’ll see what the courts say.

But the voters have already decided: Pebble Mine isn’t welcome in Bristol Bay.

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