I am a 70-plus-year resident, arriving in Pilot Point in 1949, married a Chignik girl, raised eight kids, 2 of which still live in Pilot Point. Started my fishing career in the Ugashik, made enough money to buy my first airplanes, then founded and built Peninsula Airways. Penair was built with the support of all of the residents of Bristol Bay, as well as the salmon industry, so would never advocate anything that would jeopardize our livelihoods and way of life.
So far I have been quiet about the Pebble Mine, as I have so many good friends and customers who have strong opposition. I do not necessarily propose supporting the mine, but we should at least take into consideration the potential benefits that could ensue, vs the potential risks.
The opponents of Pebble point out to a number of similar mines that have caused problems world-wide, but none of them have been subject to the intense scrutiny and permitting processes that Pebble will have to go through. In my opinion it is totally impossible that there would be such a catastrophic failure that would impact the entire Bay.
First of all, the two drainages that would be immediately impacted are Talarik Creek into Lake Iliamna, and Koktuli Creek, which drains into the Mulchatna to the Nushagak River. Together they support an extremely small percentage of the total Bristol Bay salmon runs.
Bristol Bay is well known as producing the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. The reason is that the sockeye requires a freshwater lake/river system to spawn in. The bay has by far the largest amount of fresh-water acreage, draining into salt-water oceans, in a relatively small area, in the world.
Of the Kvichak sockeye run, which is the largest producer in the bay, the great majority of the fish go back via the Southeast side of Lake Illiamna, with its large number of adjoining fresh-water lakes, as well as on up to Lake Clark. On the other side, the Koktuli drains into the Mulchatna, then the Nushagak. The great majority of Nushagak fish go into the Wood River/lakes system, with the rest on up into the Tikchik lakes. The other three major fisheries, Naknek, Egegik and Ugashik are totally separate.
Let me give an admittedly small example of how resilient our fisheries are. About fifteen years ago Mt. Chiginagak, at the head of Mother Goose Lake, had a fairly major eruption. There were thousands of tons of lava and acidic volcanic waste, dumped into the Ugashik River system, starting with Pumice Creek and Painter creek, which flows into the King Salmon River, on to Ugashik Bay.
There were at least four lodges that were forced to close because those runs were wiped out! But the runs have recovered to the point that this past summer my kids had one of the best seasons ever.
Recently another red herring was thrown by some biologist whom I have never heard of. He stated that the spawners returning to the Koktuli appeared to be a little different sub-species of sockeye, possibly being unique. This would, of course, result in different and preferential treatment for this watershed. Are we really going to change our management and harvesting systems for the fifty million Bristol Bay fish for a few hundred thousand going into one tiny drainage, when not one of us could even tell the difference in the fish? Wonder how much the anti-Pebble people got to him?
Finally, as to the surface access to the mine, it is ludicrous to even think about crossing the West end of the lake from Kamishak Bay, the wintertime crossing of the lake is only one of the major problems. Just ask the people at King Cove and Akutan about their experience with the hovercraft, which was sold to them by the “economical experts” and “engineers” as the answer to their problems.
The only logical way is to use the deepwater port in Cook Inlet, then over the existing road to Pile Bay, then around the end of the lake past Pedro Bay and Illiamna, incidentally greatly benefitting those communities. Also we would finally get the bridge over the Newhalen River, which would greatly benefit the community of Nondalton, as well as Port Alsworth, and all of Lake Clark.
The Newhalen is impassable at the lower end by boat, because of the extreme rocky rapids. I understand the State actually bought the steel for the bridge some twenty years ago, and believe it is still stored in the area.
So I guess it comes down to whether the risk is worth the rewards, there are billions of dollars involved, a large portion of which would be a direct benefit to all of us Bay residents. Witness the recent decision to form the dividend payout, which will be payable to each of us in cash every year.