Hawaii & Alaska
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AK - Putting the Pebble Mine to Rest

Weary Alaska communities are seeking permanent protections for the Bristol Bay watershed.

Robin Samuelsen still recalls his first meeting about the prospective Pebble Mine. It was around 2005 or 2006, in Dillingham, Alaska. Listening to an early plan for developing a copper and gold mine in the spawning grounds of Bristol Bay’s abundant salmon, this Curyung tribal chief and commercial fisherman quickly made up his mind. “You’ll kill off our salmon,” Samuelsen remembers saying, adding: “I’ll be up there to stop you.”

More than 15 years later, in November 2020, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) denied the Pebble Mine a key permit, a sharp setback for the mine—though not the first. Already, the mine’s developer, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), has filed an appeal challenging that decision. PLP was joined by the State of Alaska, which, in an unusual move, filed its own appeal. Both appeals are currently under review.

Even before these latest developments, however, the people living around the Bristol Bay region had been trying to bring this long-running tug of war to rest once and for all.

Just as he promised at the meeting in Dillingham, Samuelsen is part of a tribally led campaign to garner permanent legal protection for the Bristol Bay region’s thriving wild salmon from large-scale mining proposals—whether that be the Pebble Mine, or whatever comes next. Lindsay Layland, deputy director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB), which is involved in the effort, says the goal of the coalition is to find a way to legally prioritize the salmon that mean so much to the people living and fishing in the region.

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Read also UPDATE 1-Developer of Alaska's Pebble mine, ex-CEO served subpoenas, Reuters, Feb. 5, 2021.