“Salmon aren’t enough for our young people”; BBNC asserts authority it doesn’t have?

Final Pebble hearing draws mix of views
Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media, April 16, 2019

People who oppose the Pebble Mine – and quite a few who support it – came out in force Tuesday for the final Corps of Engineers hearing on the proposed mine.

“I’m a fifth-generation commercial fisherman,” said 15-year-old Emily Taylor, a freshman at Dimond High who fishes in the Naknek-Kvichak district every summer. “And the permit I now hold once belonged to my great, great grandmother, Anna Chukan.”

Taylor said she hopes to pass her salmon permit and setnet fishing tradition on to her heirs, but she says a mine could end all that. Her hand shook as she read from her cell phone screen.

“I don’t want my children and grandchildren to have to ask me what it was like to go fishing. Do you think they’ll ask me about this day? What I did to stop it? I don’t want that to become my reality,” she said.

Jimmy Hurley Sr. of Ekwok said he had to leave his community and now works in Togiak, hauling fuel. He said salmon aren’t enough for the young people in Ekwok.

“Are they going to be proud of living off food stamps or welfare or all the other things?” Hurley said in an interview after his testimony. “Look at the state right now, with Medicaid being cut and … all these other things that are free stuff. There’s not going to be anything free anymore, so we better get people to work.”

Our Take: Kudos to Liz Ruskin for capturing two statements that so clearly state the argument over the mine from the people who live where the mine will be.

Somehow the media missed one of the most significant statements made in yesterday’s 8-hour hearing.   The statement below lays out the claim that the Bristol Bay Native Corporation has no legal basis to state that “it will not permit trespass on it’s subsurface for the purposes of support to Pebble.”   That’s a big deal folks.

STATEMENT OF SAMUEL J. FORTIER ON BEHALF OF ALASKA PENINSULA CORPORATION

I speak today concerning Alternative I, the preferred access route for ingress and egress to the proposed Pebble Mine. It is my distinct privilege to have represented Alaska Peninsula Corporation for 35 years, and I speak today as their lawyer. My comments are limited to APC’s protected rights to develop its lands without interference.

As the Corps is aware, APC is a village corporation within the meaning of § 3(j) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. It owns 400,000 acres of surface estate lands in fee. Almost half of those lands are in the Iliamna Lake area, near the Pebble prospect. APC supports Alternative I, which will involve approximately 24 miles of right-of-way on APC’s lands.

The Regional ANCSA Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, is the owner of the subsurface underlying APC’s lands. BBNC has stated publicly that it will not permit “trespass” on its subsurface for the purposes of support to Pebble.

BBNC has no legal basis to hinder APC’s right to economic development of APC’s lands. The Ninth Circuit has been clear on this matter. In Koniag, Inc. v. Koncor Forest Resource, 35 F.3d 991 (9th Cir. 1994), the Court expressly held that a Regional Corporation cannot block a village’s economic development. The Court held that: “Congress intended that those village corporations that did select land for economical potential would be able to use that land and to realize its potential.” APC selected its land for economic potential. BBNC cannot render APC’s lands worthless. Rather, APC has an implied easement to rock, sand and gravel that is necessary for APC’s realization of its economic potential.

BBNC’s threats are therefore frivolous. BBNC may not unreasonably deny access on APC’s planned right-of-way.

In Summary:

  • APC supports Alternative I. Alternative I access is on APC lands. The Alternative permits APC to develop its economic potential for its 900 shareholders and their families.
  • As a matter of law, BBNC cannot prohibit APC’s realization of APC’s economic potential.
  • Alternative I provides the least risk, and the greatest benefit to the Iliamna Lake community.