Water-protection vote seen as referendum on risks to Sockeye Salmon vs. the rich rewards of a huge new gold mine... and gold won out

by Craig Weatherby and Randy Hartnell

As we reported last week, the latest battle in the war over Alaska's proposed Pebble Mine involved a ballot initiative called Ballot Measure 4.

(See “Salmon-Risking Gold Mine goes to Alaskan Voters” and “Will a Gold Mine Threaten Vital Choice Sockeye?”)

Sadly, only 43 percent voted “yes” to enhanced Salmon protection, while 57 percent voted “no”.

Ballot Measure 4which Alaskans voted on last Tuesday, August 26would have increased protections for Salmon streams that support the huge Sockeye Salmon run in Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay hosts the largest wild Salmon run in the world, with the annual Bristol Bay Sockeye harvest providing more than 12,000 jobs and $300 million to Alaska's economy.

By most reports, the pro-mining opponents of the measure outspent the pro-Salmon side by about 5 to 1.

The anti-initiative ads convinced most Alaskans that it would yield redundant regulations and a new bureaucracy, while deterring mine development, blocking new state revenues (and possible bonus checks to Alaska residents), and preventing creation of thousands of high-paying mining jobs.

Some Alaska officials say that the terms of the initiative simply echoed existing legal protections for water quality and Salmon runs.

Pro-mine opponents of the initiative say if it had passed, it would have effectively killed new, large-scale mining in Alaska, impacted smaller existing mines, and posed a threat to Alaska's economy.

But initiative supporters saw the initiative as the only way to help prevent the enormous Pebble Mine from killing the Bristol Bay Sockeye run.

Mine opponents plan next steps

Members of Alaskans for Clean Water, the Bristol Bay Alliance and the Renewable Resources Coalition noted that the fight over Ballot Measure 4 helped put the issue of Pebble before the public.

But these and other supporters of Ballot Measure 4 said the 5 to 1 disparity in advertising dollars allowed mine proponents to mislead the public successfully.

The next steps, they say, are to mount a grass-roots campaign to fight the misperceptions spread by mining interests and to provide accurate information to Alaskans who favor responsible resource development.

You may want to consider supporting two key organizations fighting to ensure that the Pebble Mine does not kill the irreplaceable Bristol Bay Sockeye run:

Alaskans for Clean Water

Renewable Resources Coalition