Alaska Indigenous Community Gives Fatal Blow to Proposed Mine Project

Photo: Bristol Bay Borough

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Pedro Bay Corp., an Alaska Native group, has struck a blow to the controversial Pebble Mine project, which had promised to be the largest gold mine in North America. Located near Alaska’s famed Bristol Bay,  development on the site threatened to damage the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, one that locals and Indigenous communities rely on for food and income. Only now made public, the corporation’s shareholders voted by a landslide to allow The Conservation Fund to buy easements on more than 44,000 acres, making the mining road off-limits to developers. Among other continuing threats to Alaska’s landscape, Indigenous communities and environmentalists are taking a moment to celebrate the win.

Why This Matters: Alaska continues to fight tough battles over its natural resources. The Trump administration slashed protections for the Tongass National Forest that have yet to be restored, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was nearly chopped up and scrapped for fossil fuel development that no one even wanted to extract. Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of each battle, advocating for protections that are now seeming more likely each day. President Biden has pledged to protect 30% of lands by 2030 and prioritize Indigenous sovereignty in the process. This win goes a long way in conserving the commercial fisheries (worth billions) and local communities that depend on them in Alaska.

Golden Opportunity

The original mine proposal was a 20-year operation spanning more than 13 miles, requiring a 270-megawatt power plant, a natural gas pipeline, an 82-mile double-lane road, and the dredging of a port. The EPA estimated the project would destroy 2,292 acres of wetlands and more than 105 miles of streams. After the Obama administration effectively killed it, the Trump administration allowed the developers, Northern Dynasty Minerals, to apply for a permit.

Pedro Bay Corp. had the support of some bizarre bedfellows. Donald Trump Jr., who frequently fished in the region, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, and a small group of Republicans launched a campaign that prompted the Trump White House to reassess the mine. More predictable allies arrived from the commercial fishing industry, and in November, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit for the mine. With the addition of the Biden administration’s opposition, Pebble mine has few allies left.

The End of the Road

Now, strategic parts of the proposed mine land are off-limits to developers. Pedro Bay Corp. will receive nearly $20 million in exchange for the land rights, including $500,000 for education and cultural programs in local communities. The land covers a critical route that Pebble Mine’s developers planned to use to move ore out of the massive pit mine. One blocked route may not seem like a death sentence, but officials say it might as well be. “I would say if it’s not the nail in the coffin, it’s just waiting for the last tap of the hammer,” Tim Troll, executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, told The Washington Post, “I just don’t see any way that they could do this.” Sarah Thiele, a board member of Pedro Bay Corp., says that they’ve successfully done what they set out to do. “I feel like we are doing our mission of preserving our heritage and our pristine lands from any development,” she said. “That is totally our identity, the fish and our land.”

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