House members listen to testimony on Pebble

House members listen to testimony on Pebble

October 3, 2007

Residents voice opposition to Pebble project
House members listen to testimony on Pebble

The Bristol Bay Times (AK)
October 4, 2007

Many Bristol Bay residents turned out at legislative field hearings last week to give testimony on a bill that would increase protections for wild salmon habitat in the region.

The majority of testimony gathered at the hearings in Newhalen, Naknek and Dillingham from Sept. 24-26 showed local opposition to the Pebble mine that residents say posesmajor risks for the region’smultimillion dollar commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries.

The new partnership between Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals and London-based Anglo American, one of the world’s largest and wealthiest mining corporations, to develop Pebble has led to calls for legislative action early next year to protect the region’s salmon and clean water, which could be severely impacted by Pebble.

Eleven state legislators, who are members of the House Fisheries and Resources committees, attended the hearings, where local residents testified about the Native use, subsistence and culture, sport and commercial fishing value of Bristol Bay.

“The area we’re talking about is a top priority for fisheries. There is no place like it on Earth, and I think everything that can be done to protect it should be done,” said Bella Hammond, widow of former Gov. Jay Hammond, who testified at the Newhalen hearing.

“I can’t imagine taking the chance to destroy the fisheries that are unique, that are a renewable resource. We should do everything we can to protect it,” she said.

The hearings were scheduled specifically to discuss issues relating to House Bill 134, introduced by Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D - Dillingham, last year, which, if passed, would effectively halt the development of the Pebble mine.

Residents from outlying villages, including elders and children, traveled to the hearings to protest the Pebble mine. New Stuyahok elders danced and sang a “No Pebble” song in Yup’ik with a translator, and a caravan of 20 four-wheelers drove from Nondalton to Newhalen to testify.

A potluck for the legislators in the Newhalen gym included foods from Bristol Bay’s land and water, with salmon, other locally harvested meat, and aguduk, blueberries and whale blubber.

Those testifying at the hearings included former state Sen. Rick Halford, who told legislators in Dillingham that the Pebble mine is the most pressing natural resource issue facing Alaska.

Industries represented included sports lodge owners and guides, pilots, adventure tourism and commercial fishing.

Lindsey Bloom, a commercial fisherman in South Naknek, attended all three hearings and said she testified to the fact that local people simply want to see the fisheries protected.  “I told them that we’re people who make a living out here, and eat out here,” Bloom said.  “What people are saying is that we want protections for our water and our land.”

Bloom also said that even though some residents spoke specifically to the bill in question, the majority of testimony centered on opposition to the mine.  “They can’t expect people out here just to find loopholes in the bill,” Bloom said.

Two bills that would affect development of the Pebble mine are pending in the State Legislature: Edgmon’s H.B. 134 and Sen. Gary Stevens’ Senate Bill 67.