Over the past several years, Pebble Partnership has demanded a "fair and normal" permitting process for its project. Well, now that Pebble has submitted its permit application and the rubber has met the road, it appears that "fair and normal" to Pebble really means "fast-tracked and in their favor." I'll state the obvious: It is wholly unacceptable for Alaskans to have limited opportunity to engage while a Canadian mining company is hand-delivered an expedited permitting process to threaten the greatest wild salmon region on the planet.
The hundreds of thousands of dollars that Pebble is throwing at high-powered lobbyists to persuade the Trump administration for "consideration and approvals related to the proposed Pebble mine" must be paying off because the Army Corps of Engineers has made it clear it intends to side with Pebble by giving them a fast and easy permitting track while giving Alaskans and even Native tribes the cold shoulder.
Recent large mines in Alaska, Donlin for instance, received a more robust process, which is fitting for a project of such magnitude. If these other projects were subject to the "normal process," then the Corps is pulling a fast one on us with respect to Pebble. Soon, the Corps will solicit public comment on Pebble. While the Corps offered a public comment period for Donlin that was longer than 100 days, it is now adamant that the comment period for Pebble will be no more than 30 days. Thirty days is an inadequate amount of time for the most controversial mine in Alaska's history, and that's just the opening act of the "rigorous permitting" dog-and-pony show.
Before the Corps opens up Bristol Bay's headwaters to a foreign mining company, it needs to make sure any decision it makes is based on the best science available with thorough input from all relevant state and federal agencies, tribes and local communities. But it's not just about creating more process. It's about listening to Alaskans. Pebble has said time and again that it will not build a mine without social license from the people of Bristol Bay. The people of Bristol Bay are tired of Pebble and there is no way Pebble can achieve any degree of social license without comprehensive input from ALL stakeholders throughout the permitting process.
The world-class fisheries of Bristol Bay, and the food, employment and traditions that come with them, deserve the most robust and rigorous public process ever. It is disappointing to see the numerous indicators that point to a subpar process at best. Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski, Rep. Young, Gov. Bill Walker and even Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack should be outraged that the Corps seems so willing to short-change Alaskans.
The sun is rapidly returning to Western Alaska, and soon the first salmon will be returning to Bristol Bay as well. I have a lot to say about the proposed Pebble mine and its unacceptable risk to my livelihood. I'm not the only one. With fishing season quickly approaching, I will no longer have the time to be as readily engaged in the process to help defend the resources my family relies on. Soon, all my time will be dedicated to working on my boat and gear in hopes for another amazing salmon run with higher prices.
I am unsure whether the public process will make room for me and fellow Bristol Bay fishermen but I'll repeat what we've been shouting for over a decade: "Pebble mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place." I hope that the Army Corps of Engineers, all of our decision makers and Pebble respect all of us who will be impacted to weigh in on this mine, or any other mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
Everett Thompson is a fifth-generation commercial fisherman from Naknek. This season will be his 35th consecutive season fishing Bristol Bay.