Pebble opponents rally while mine backers meet

Norm Van Vactor, executive director of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham, speaks for opponents of the Pebble mine at a rally in Anchorage. Photo by Margaret Bauman for the Cordova Times

Some 200 commercial fish harvesters, environmentalists and others listened in the pouring rain in downtown Anchorage on Aug. 21 as former state Senate Majority Leader Rick Halford advocated for protection of Bristol Bay fish habitat.

“The fact is that salmon are life to Bristol Bay,” said Halford. “They feed everything from the tiniest microorganism to the brown bear. They feed the heart, the soul and the faith of everybody there. And they feed the dreams of people worldwide.”

Halford was one of a half dozen speakers at the rain soaked rally across the street from the Hotel Captain Cook, where the backers of the Pebble mine had initially planned to hold a meeting of their advisory committee.

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole said that several groups opposed to the mine had been invited to participate in the meeting, but declined.

Heatwole said the PLP had sought a range of diverse views and backgrounds on the advisory committee, whose membership includes a retired Air Force general and former Alaska Native land claims leader, and that the committee was willing to take into consideration views of the opponents.

Heatwole also said that the PLP is now in discussions with potential investors, whom he did not name, and that the PLP’s goal is to file applications for permitting the mine by year’s end. The issue of where a gas fired electrical plant to power mine operations would be located is not yet determined, but plans are to resolve that issue before submitting permit applications, he said.


Alannah Hurley of United Tribes of Bristol Bay told the crowd that the decision not to attend the advisory committee meeting was one that Bristol Bay said a unilateral “no” to.

“We will not participate in a discussion of how to build the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay,” she said.

Norm Van Vactor, chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham, said Bristol Bay residents are tired of the PLP “lying about our region and trying to intimidate us into supporting them.

“Enough is enough,” Van Vactor said. “Bristol Bay has a robust economic engine that is sustainable – our fisheries. Just this year the commercial fishery harvested more than 37 million sockeye. The sockeye run and harvest broke records. That’s the economy we want. That’s the economy we will fight to preserve.”

Other speakers included Nelli Williams, executive director of Trout Unlimited Alaska, and Tommy Tilden, chief of the Curyung Tribe, and a board member of Nunamta Alukestai.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for more than a decade, because the continuing successes of our fisheries means jobs for our communities, fish in our freezers, and a way of life passed down from generation to generation,” Tilden said. “The best the advisory committee can do is go home,” he said.