Ballot Measure 4 protects salmon for future generations

  • Saturday, November 1, 2014 5:00pm
  • Opinion

Voting “Yes” on Ballot Measure 4 will do nothing more than require large-scale mines to meet the same standard that has applied to oil and gas exploration for 40 years — avoiding irreparable harm to vital Bristol Bay fisheries.

Bristol Bay’s importance

The Bristol Bay Watershed, with its many rivers, lakes and streams, produces wild salmon on a scale unmatched by any other place on Earth. Bristol Bay’s annual production of 31 million sockeye salmon amounts to one-third of the world’s supply. It is the world’s largest and most valuable wild salmon fishery. Unlike other salmon producing regions, this fishery is 100 percent wild and has never been supported by hatchery-grown fish. It is truly a one-of-a-kind region.

Bristol Bay salmon are critical to Alaska’s economy. The sport and commercial fisheries support 10,000 jobs — with an annual impact in Alaska between $318 and $578 million — nationwide, that impact is $1.5 billion.

Thousands of local residents depend on the annual salmon run to support their way of life, as it has for generations.

Bristol Bay’s fishery can continue to provide economic and cultural benefits far into the future if Ballot Measure 4 is passed.

The Fisheries Reserve

In 1972, the Alaska Legislature, under the leadership of then-Senator Jay Hammond, created the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. The Reserve encompasses critical watersheds and portions of two national parks and one state park. However, the Reserve amounts to less than 5 percent of Alaska’s total area.

To protect the Reserve, the Legislature inserted one additional step for oil and gas developers seeking drilling permits in the region — the developers were required to demonstrate that their activities would not endanger the Reserve’s salmon, and the economy dependent on them.

If the developers met their burden, the elected representatives of Alaskans (and not unelected bureaucrats) would authorize the activity. To this day, the Reserve is the only one of its kind in Alaska.

Ballot Measure 4 simply takes the same standard — a standard that has applied to oil and gas activities for 40 years — and applies it to large-scale metallic sulfide mining.

Protecting Bristol Bay for future generations

Large-scale metallic sulfide mining in Bristol Bay is currently being pursued in the form of Pebble Mine. Mining of this type produces chemicals that could harm the surrounding waters in a manner uniquely toxic to salmon. Such mining would also require massive amounts of such toxic substances to be stored in the Reserve forever. No mine of Pebble’s size has ever been developed without polluting the surrounding groundwater.

Given that mining of this type is being proposed in the heart of the world’s greatest salmon-producing watersheds, it is vital that Alaskans vote yes on Ballot Measure 4 to protect the fishery.

Ballot Measure 4 will not prohibit any project. The only change to the process is that, after design and in addition to required permitting, a final project will be presented to the Legislature. This will allow public hearings and testimony, both by scientific experts and by those who will be most affected — local subsistence users, commercial fishermen, and lodge owners. Following these hearings and testimony, the Legislature could only approve the project if it found the project would not constitute and danger to the Reserve’s fishery.

If a project will not endanger Bristol Bay, then Ballot Measure 4 will not stop it. However, the measure provides a necessary safeguard against any project that would destroy a priceless resource. Just this summer, at British Columbia’s Mount Polley Mine — a modern mine, designed by Pebble’s own engineering firm — a catastrophic failure of the tailings dam occurred. We cannot risk such a catastrophe in the heart of Bristol Bay.

Given the continued existence of a vast mining district at the headwaters of Bristol Bay — this safeguard is necessary regardless of whether the Pebble Mine goes forward. Ballot Measure 4 is about more than defeating a single project — it is about protecting the priceless riches of Bristol Bay for future generations.

Vote “Yes” on Ballot Measure 4. Vote “Yes” for salmon.

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