Research panel discusses Pebble Mine
By Elika Roohi
Sun Star Reporter
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, the Northern Studies Program at UAF hosted a panel discussion about Pebble Mine. The presentation took place in the Wood Center Ballroom and included Rainer Newberry (professor of geology), Gang Chen (professor of engineering), Milo Adkison (professor of fisheries), Oscar Kawagley (professor of education), Davin Holen (with the Department of Fish and Game), and Jerry McBeath (professor of political science).
Each of the panelists discussed the Pebble Mine project as it relates to their specialty.
Pebble Mine is a proposed mining project in Southwest Alaska. The area has “a half trillion dollars” worth of resources, according to Newberry. Opponents of the mine are concerned though with the environmental impact.
Newberry said that no matter how minute the amount of waste the mine produced, “they would be dumping something. And it would eventually come down to Dillingham.”
There is very little concrete information on Pebble Mine right now. Even the length of time the project could take is disputed.
“I’m guessing about 30 years,” Chen said.
“The last meeting I went to said it would last for about 40 years,” Holen said. However, it depends on the mining method used. “If it was mined at the rate of Fort Knox, it would take 2,000 years,” he said.
One of the biggest worries about Pebble Mine is that it will pollute the streams, which will affect the salmon population.
“I think what most of the Native people are concerned about are the streams where the salmon spawn,” Kawagley said.
Salmon are important, Holen said. “Fish range from between 50 percent to 80 percent of the diet [in some Native communities].”
“The likelihood of this destroying the salmon in Bristol Bay is totally negligible,” Newberry said. “If you really want to destroy the salmon population in Bristol Bay, you drop a nuke on Dillingham.”
Dillingham doesn’t have to worry about nukes, but Holen believes the worry about water is legitimate.
“We all drink this water,” Holen said. “There’s a lot of meaning in that to people who live in rural communities.”
Someone should talk to the people living in the rural communities and ask them what they think about Pebble Mine, said Kawagley. “The Alaska Native people are overlooked,” he said. “We have 100 years of experience of living on this land… I think we have a lot of contribute to the research of the modern scientists.”
Kawagley proposed getting some Native Alaskans into the politics of Pebble Mine, and to go from there.
“Really, it’s all about politics,” said McBeath. “Because that’s where it will end: with decisions made by government regulators.”
The future of the Pebble Mine is still up in the air. Engineers are working on different ways to mine, geologists are working on the environmental aspects, surveyors are gathering public opinion, and political scientists are trying to balance the options.
“The effect is just unknown at the point,” Newberry said. “And that’s what scares people.”