By LAINE WELCH
June 17, 2018
(SitNews) - Five candidates for Alaska governor met up at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek last week. The debate focused on a wide range of topics affecting rural Alaska, including two hot fish issues.
Naknek is the hub of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay, which also is at the heart of the proposed plans for the Pebble Mine.
Governor Bill Walker said emphatically that he is not in favor of the Pebble Mine.
“I had an interesting discussion with a group that said it can be done safely. My response was what if it doesn’t. Look at all that is at risk. I am very pro-development and pro-mining but not in that location,” Walker said.
Mead Treadwell, a Republican candidate from Anchorage, said he will not trade one resource for another.
As a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Protection, Treadwell said he helped write state water quality standards.
“If this mine cannot meet the kind of water quality and habitat protection standards that we have created to protect our fisheries, then it won’t happen,” he stated.
“From what I’ve seen it is going to be very hard for Pebble to make it through the process… But it makes sense to have a strong public process where we get to analyze what is happening,” Treadwell added.
Republican candidate Scott Hawkins of Anchorage said the mine has the legal right to go through the permitting process, but that it “very well may be the wrong mine in the wrong place because if anything goes wrong, there is just so much at stake.”
“I think the mine is losing momentum,” Hawkins added. “All the big investors have decided that it just doesn’t work on several levels. A lot of it is just how controversial it is to the people in this region and that is hurting the mining industry.”
Mark Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage, has long touted the “wrong mine/wrong place” meme, which was first stated years ago by former Senator Ted Stevens.
“When people say they are against it, they should be against it all the way,” Begich said. “The first thing I would do as Governor would be to immediately make sure the Corps of Engineers knows that state land or state right of way or state access would not be part of their plans or participate in any way. I believe that would finally put an end to this project and end the divisiveness it has caused throughout all of Alaska. This issue is like Groundhog Day, it never goes away and just keeps coming back.”
Mike Dunleavy, a Republican candidate from Wasilla, was more equivocal saying it was difficult for him to answer until Pebble goes through the study process.
“Once we can examine that data, then I think a final decision can be made,” Dunleavy said, adding that if the mine is going to endanger fisheries or other resources in the area, “I think we all should be against it.”
“I do think there is a danger in politicizing this study process that we have,” he added. “In the end, if it is not a good project we shouldn’t have it permitted.”