If you don’t know your furs, know your furrier. That’s the slogan used by David Green Master Furriers. It’s also good advice when applied to any number of issues — and I’m talking about a lot more than furs.
Take issues like development of Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region and the proposed Izembek land trade that would open the way for building a road between Cold Bay and King Cove. I don’t know all the details involved in either proposed project, but I do know who is involved and on which side. And that is enough for me to decide how I would vote if the questions were before me.
In the case of Pebble Mine and its revised approach to developing the massive copper, gold and molybdenum in the area, I don’t know my mines but I do know my miner. That is, I don’t know much about mines or mining, but I do know and trust Willie Hensley, who is currently serving as spokesman for Pebble in television ads.
Hensley is a Kotzebue-born Alaska Native leader who has long been active in the state’s public issues. He is a former state senator, former commissioner of commerce and economic development, corporate leader and a fine guy. He studied economics while earning his degree in political science from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and has the background and credentials to evaluate complicated issues. When I first saw him on the TV talking up Pebble, I told my wife that if Willie supported Pebble, then so do I.
I was opposed to the Pebble mining project when it first came before the public several years ago, mostly because it would have involved a massive dam below its huge tailings pile. That held the potential, if the dam failed, for a huge spill of toxic chemicals into downstream waterways that are home to one of the world’s greatest populations of spawning salmon. At the beginning of Pebble’s current bout in the public arena, the company reported that it had revised its plans for the project and would greatly reduce the problematic portions of the original scheme, including the tailings dam.
I don’t know enough about mining to be able to evaluate the project, which is proposed by the deposit owners, Northern Dynasty Minerals. But those who are supporting Pebble also include Mark Hamilton, former president of the University of Alaska, who is working as executive vice president of external affairs for the company. He is another person I hold in high regard and whose opinion I respect.
Another way to consider whether you support or oppose a project is to see which side members of the public are on. The revised Pebble project is opposed by some Alaska Natives but it is supported by some, including residents of villages relatively near the mining area. They would be most directly impacted by an environmental problem with the mine, so they will be monitoring it closely, and they stand to win jobs on the project. Some of the best and best-paying jobs in Alaska are at the Red Dog zinc mine in Alaska’s Northwest Arctic. I know people who live in the region and have worked there — and I trust their judgment. And I suspect the Red Dog experience can be used in evaluating the likelihood that Pebble will be a positive development.
The environmentalists are opposed to the Pebble Mine, surprise, surprise. I worked for ARCO from 1969 to 1980 and had a public relations firm for 20 years before I shut it down to go to work as an editor of The Voice of The Times with Bill Tobin and Paul Jenkins. When I closed the firm my clients included BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Shell, all of the majors then operating here. In those positions I did battle many times with the environmentalists. I knew firsthand what the companies were doing and what such critics were saying about them. And, believe me, I would fight those battles all over again if the need were to arise, and take the same sides.
On the Izembek road issue, I have hunted geese near Cold Bay and driven out the road that goes partway to King Cove, where the villagers seek surface access to the airport at Cold Bay. Existing roads cover quite a bit of the distance between the two communities and my impression is that the remaining gap is something like five miles. The important thing is that there are quite a few rudimentary roads in the area and closing that gap would be a major improvement in the lives of the people of King Cove. Seems like a good thing to me.
The key in all these questions is to go with what you know firsthand and the people you trust.
Tom Brennan is an Anchorage columnist and author of five books. He was a reporter/columnist for The Anchorage Times and an editor and columnist at The Voice of The Times.