One of the unique developments in the Pebble Mine saga is the opposition to the project voiced by Alaska's normally pro-development senior U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. While Senator Stevens has always been an enthusiastic proponent of responsible development to diversify and strengthen Alaska's economy, backstopping his verbal advocacy with a unique capability for procuring funds for Alaska in significant excess of Alaska's population and corresponding influence, his almost knee-jerk opposition to this project seems out of character.
And on March 2nd, 2006, Senator Stevens reiterated that opposition. In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Senator Stevens said he has asked federal agencies to give the project "a careful review." The Bristol Bay region where Pebble lies heavily depends on salmon, and some of the major rivers are experiencing declining returns, even without a mine, he said. "We really don't know what's happening with the reproductive capability of those streams out there," Stevens added.
A big mine in such a fish-dependent region doesn't necessarily make sense, in his view. "If this was some essential commodity that we absolutely had to have to run our economy it would be a different matter, and even then I would want to have a lot better attention being paid to the environmental process. But this one, I just don't like it," Stevens continued.
Stevens said he has talked with Northern Dynasty. "I told them I didn't like it and I told them I would do my best to slow it down and stop it until they demonstrated an absolute necessity to do what they're doing," Stevens concluded.
Stevens' concern over the impact upon the fishing industry is warranted. Fish by far underpin the economy, with tourism a very poor second. Last year's harvest of some 29 million sockeye salmon from the Bristol Bay area was one of the largest in a century, supplying restaurants and markets across the United States. Anglers spend upward of $15,000 to fly in on floatplanes and spend a week at lodges casting for salmon that can top 50 pounds.
The Pebble Mine would be located approximately 17 miles from the village of Nondalton, Alaska (and approximately 200 miles southwest of Anchorage). Off the state's road network and accessible only by air, the village is populated by around 200 Alaska Natives who rely heavily on subsistence to survive, hunting in the fall, berry picking after the snow melts, and fishing during the summer. Northern Dynasty, the Canadian-owned corporation pursuing the project, estimates that the mine's construction would create 2,000 jobs, and, once in operation, the mine would require 1,000 workers for its 40- to 70-year life. Those jobs, Jenkins said, would range from housekeepers to highly trained technical laborers earning upward of $100,000.
Click HERE to view map showing the proposed location of the Pebble Mine.
Northern Dynasty also claims that the Pebble deposit holds some 67 billion pounds of copper, 82 million ounces of gold and more than 4 billion pounds of molybdenum, a metal used to strengthen steel. Market value: more than $300 billion, based on recent prices. As such, Pebble ranks as one of the world's 10 largest known metals reserves overall, said a spokesman for Rio Tinto Ltd., a United Kingdom-based mining giant that has a 20 percent stake in Northern Dynasty.
Opponents, led by the well-heeled Renewable Resources Coalition, claim the project poses too many risks to local subsistence, sport fishing, and commercial fishing downstream in Bristol Bay. Concern has been expressed over possible contamination of adjacent soil and streams from leaking tailing ponds, as well as the possibility that a catastrophic earthquake might breach any of the envisioned dams to be built in order to contain the tailings ponds. Their case was strengthened in the fall of 2006 when Nondalton's village elders toured the Pebble site and unexpectedly found that animals the community hunts and traps -- wolverines, beavers, foxes, lynxes, caribou and others -- were nowhere to be seen. They believe helicopters and test drilling scared animals away.
Not surprisingly, the Renewable Resources Coalition (RRC) hailed Senator Stevens' decision to join the oppposition forces. However, does this mean Ted Stevens has suddenly become a "greenie"? The consistently low scores given to Stevens by some environmental watchdog groups, personified by the 14% rating assessed by the League of Conservation Voters in 2006, do not square with this conclusion. This dichotomy implies there must be another reason for Stevens' opposition.
And sure enough, the Senatemajority.com website reveals another possible reason. This website highlights the political relationship which has evolved between Senator Stevens and an Alaska constituent named Robert B. Gillam. Gillam, who owns a 10,000-square-foot log house on a peninsula jutting into Lake Clark, about 30 miles from the mine site, and whose Alaska investment firm holds more than $1 billion in mining stocks for clients, has become the front man for an otherwise ramshackle group of sometimes-fractious Alaska Natives, fishermen, hunters, environmentalists and business leaders opposing the project. Gillam has helped pay for ads, lobbyists and polls to convince Alaskans that the Pebble Mine project could be an environmental disaster, spending an estimated $3 million per year on this publicity campaign. They even found a former Northern Dynasty worker named Holly Wysocki to assume the role of a "come-hither" diva to serve as the public spokeswoman, although she's not getting paid for appearing in the RRC's latest ad.
The Senatemajority.com website believes that Ted Stevens' opposition to the Pebble Mine is fueled much more by his political and financial relationships with Robert Gillam than by any environmental concerns. To back up this conclusion, they related the following series of events:
1). Stevens Says He First Heard About the Plan While Fishing With Gillam - Stevens said he has chatted about the Pebble mine with Gillam during fishing trips, and he read material about the project that Gillam provided. [Anchorage, 3/27/2006] Daily News
2). Stevens has Invested As Much As $500,000 With Gillam’s Investment Company, McKinley Capital Management - Stevens' investment in McKinley Capital Management first appears on his personal financial disclosures in 1999, and remains on disclosures from 1999 through 2004. On Stevens amendment to his 2004 disclosure, the McKinley Capital Management investment is absent, with no explanation of what became of the investment.
3). Stevens also Tied to Another Anti-Pebble Lobbyist - Gillam has hired Alaska lobbyist Ashley Reed to "derail the proposed open-pit mine" [Anchorage Daily News, 2/8/2006]. Reed is employed by Jonathan Rubini, who until recently was a co-investor with Stevens in several lucrative business deals. Stevens has previously helped Rubini win a contract to build military housing at the Elmendorf Air Force base.
4). Gillam Campaign Contributions to Stevens - Gillam & his wife have given at least $7,000 in direct campaign contributions to Ted Stevens over a period of time since 1996, as well as $5,000 to the Republican Party of Alaska, according to Federal Election Commission records cited by the website.
At this point in time, there is nothing to suggest that anything officially "illegal" has been done, but it just serves to illustrate that those who embark upon careers in what has been called the world's "second oldest profession" tend to be most influenced by those with the biggest mouths and fattest wallets.
Another source of useful information about Robert Gillam is the Bob-Gillam-Cant-Buy-Alaska.com website, billed as a "web page of righteous indignation". While the site's webmaster appears to have an axe to grind against Gillam, it does consolidate a diverse amount of information on Gillam from multiple sources on to a single site, replete with media links. If one can sift through the subjectivity, one can glean useful facts from this site.
A more objective account of Gillam's background was published on March 27th, 2007 by the Anchorage Daily News. Until two years ago, Gillam's only interest in mining lay in the shares of various companies owned by his firm, which has about $13 billion under management. Even now, he's not anti-mining, saying, for instance, that "it's just stupid not to drill" for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which he considers barren.
For years, Gillam has gone to Bristol Bay to fish and hunt. He grew up in Alaska, so poor that at one point he lived in the warehouse of a liquor store his father operated. After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and an MBA from UCLA, he went on to a career in banking and finance. In 1990, he founded his Anchorage-based firm, McKinley Capital Management Inc., where he remains president and chief investment officer. (He stresses that he's waging his battle against the Pebble prospect as a private citizen, not for McKinley.)
However, Gillam experienced a dramatic "road-to-Damascus" type conversion while soaring in his private plane above the pristine tundra here two years ago. He took the flight after reading reports that a Canadian company could build North America's largest open-pit gold and copper mine in Southwest Alaska's Bristol Bay region. The proposed Pebble mine could stretch two miles across and be deep enough to swallow the Empire State Building. And it would be scraped from the headwaters of rivers that feed the world's largest wild-salmon fishery. Thus began his activism and his involvement with the Renewable Resources Coalition.
However, to his detractors, Gillam is a typical example of an idle-rich diletantte throwing around his money to kill this project. Steven Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, claims that Gillam is "only out to protect his playground" -- namely, his 10,000-square-foot log house on a peninsula jutting into Lake Clark, about 30 miles from the mine site. Packed with trophies from hunting trips Gillam has taken around the world, the house serves as a remote office and a venue for entertaining clients and power brokers. Gillam claims his cabin has nothing to do with the fight, and, considering it is 30 miles from the proposed mine, this claim seems to be credible.
Analysis: Ted Stevens' opposition to the Pebble Mine does not appear to be absolute. He seems to leave the door slightly ajar to the possibility that he might change his mind using the "absolute necessity" clause. However, his choice of words makes him appear absolutely opposed, since he states his intent not merely to refuse support, but to actively derail the project in the interim. And Stevens' over-reliance on the "anti" crowd is not in this state's best interest.
Robert Gillam displays all the earmarks of a fanatic. Those who experience sudden conversions tend to be fanatical in their new-found views, brooking no dissension. Note that Gillam even rejects Northern Dynasty's attempts to build more of the mine underground to reduce the land-scarring; Gillam claims no development is acceptable.
And it's fanatics who breed oppression and tyranny. Fanatics transformed Islam from a religion of peace into a religion of hate. A fanatical crusader President's obsession with converting every nook and cranny of the known universe to carbon-copy, cookie-cutter Amerikwan-style democracy "with fire and with sword" has cost us the lives of 3,600 of our best Americans, while transforming Iraq into a charnel house. Fanatical Jews transformed the tragedy of their Holocaust into a political weapon to advance Jewish supremacism and to throttle dissent, as well as an economic weapon to eternally extort reparations from Germany. Fanatics frog-marched Jared Taylor off the lectern at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia to prevent him from giving a pro-white speech about race. A fanatical Surgeon General sanctimoniously proclaimed that "there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke", triggering a concerted attack on the private property rights of Anchorage business owners by the Anchorage Assembly and a misguided validation of those attacks by 72% of voters at the ballot box. Fanatics at MADD demand Soviet-style checkpoints on our streets, believing that every driver is a potential drunk. Fanatics can make our lives, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, "nasty, short, and brutish".
The ultimate decision on the Pebble Mine must be reached through thoughtful reasoning rather than fanatical emotion. Northern Dynasty has no vested interested in "raping and pillaging" Southwest Alaska - they see what Exxon has reaped from their corporate abuse. And once Northern Dynasty produces the final plan, it must pass 67 different regulatory hurdles. The problem is clearly overstated. They deserve to put out their final plan before we rush to judgement. However, what does concern me is that Northern Dynasty and Rio Tinto are both foreign-owned companies. Do we want so many foreigners involve in the extraction of America's patrimony?
Perhaps Senator Ted Stevens should re-direct his efforts towards motivating more American companies to invest in and operate America's infrastructure. It's time for Senator Stevens and his colleagues to move more towards an "America First" approach.