The Midas Touch

Work is hard to find in and around Igiugig, Alaska. The small
community on the south shore of Iliamna Lake at the mouth of the
Kvichak River is hemmed in on all sides by a pristine landscape
pocked with lakes, streams, and trees. But there isn’t a road in
sight. The main source of work in the region is salmon fishing, and
the area contains some the most salmon-rich streams and rivers in
the world,

reports Kenneth Miller for Mother Jones

Salmon isn’t the only natural resource the region boasts,
however: Surveys conducted by Northern Dynasty Mines have the area
pegged as one of the most gold- and copper-rich spots in North
America. And the company wants to dig. The problem is that the
mother lode is located just north of Iliamna Lake. The lake’s
watershed is a salmon-rich area, and residents are worried that
Northern Dynasty’s promises of environmental safety will quickly be
stripped as bare as the open-pit mine it proposes to build.

Experts who are not affiliated with the mining company are
skeptical: ‘What I can say is that there will be problems. I’ve
never seen a mine that doesn’t have them,’ claims David Chambers,
an engineer and geophysicist who heads the nonprofit Center for
Science in Public Participation. Skeptical, too, is Igiugig
resident Brian Kraft. The owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge, Kraft
doesn’t generally consider himself an environmentalist. He
kick-started the campaign to stop Northern Dynasty, however, after
doing some research of his own. From his perspective. the mine ‘is
just too risky an operation in too sensitive an area,’ and so he
has been engaged since 2004 in what Miller calls a ‘bush-hopping
battle for hearts and minds.’

Kraft is running headlong into a Northern Dynasty public
relations effort that is in high gear, trying to convince Alaskans
that the mine will be safe. Kraft is also coming up against
Alaska’s reclamation rules. Though they are supposed to cover costs
for environmental cleanups if a mining company goes under, the
rules are extremely lax, allowing mining companies to substitute a
portion of the reclamation bonds with a simple ‘corporate
guarantee.’ And if that were not bleak enough, Miller points out
that Alaskan officials have approved almost every mine application
that has come before them. The rubber stamp, it seems, is poised to

The region’s residents are ambivalent. As the towns debate their
position on the mine, many wonder where they and their children
will work if it isn’t built. Already a handful of towns have passed
resolutions supporting the deal, concluding that the salmon and
scenery aren’t worth the prospective jobs they would lose.

As the debate rages in cash-strapped communities around the
region, the outcome remains uncertain — a comment period opens
next year and Northern Dynasty hasn’t even applied for a permit
yet. Meanwhile, Kraft and his supporters are trying to bolster
their cause by looking for economically viable alternatives to
mining their land.
Nick Rose

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The Midas Touch

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