Five candidates for Alaska governor debated rural issues at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek last Saturday. Naknek is the hub of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay. Fish Radio asked each candidate his position on the Pebble Mine.

Mark Begich is a Democrat from Anchorage  –

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I am opposed to Pebble Mine. As the late Ted Stevens said, it’s the wrong mine in the wrong place. I think it would damage the long term health of an incredible fishery in this region. I think there are steps that could be done as governor that have not been done. When people say they are against it, they should be against it all the way. The first thing I would do as Governor of Alaska I would also make sure the Corps of Engineers knows that state land or state right of way or state access would not be part of any of their plans. Therefore, the state would not participate in that effort which I believe would finally put an end to this project, and also end the divisiveness this has caused, not only here in this region, but throughout Alaska. This issue never goes away, it seems. It’s like Groundhog Day, it keeps coming back. I would take steps immediately to make sure the state is not a participant.

Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla is a Republican candidate –

It’s difficult for me to answer until it goes through the study process.  Once we can examine that data then I think a final decision can be made. If the Pebble Mine is going to endanger fisheries or other resources in the area, I think we all should be against it. But I don’t have that answer until we go through that process. I do think there is a danger, to be honest with you, in politicizing this study process that we have. In the end if it is not a good project, we shouldn’t have it permitted.

Republican Scott Hawkins is from Anchorage –

The Pebble Mine raises a lot of difficulties and there are a lot of concerns with it. I think it is losing momentum as a project. You see where the latest investor just pulled out. That investor follows Angl-American pulling out who follows Rio Tinto. All the big hitters in the mining industry have decided that it just doesn’t work on a couple of different levels. And a lot of it is just how tremendously controversial it is to the people in this region. I think it very well may be the wrong mine in the wrong place, and as a project it hurts the mining industry because it’s tremendously controversial. I think the project has the legal right to go through the permitting process but it needs to be held to an incredibly high standard because if anything at all goes wrong, there is just so much at stake.  

Republican Mead Treadwell also is from Anchorage.

I will not trade one resource for another. If this mine cannot meet the kind of water quality standards and habitat protection standards that we have created to protect our fisheries all over the state, then it won’t happen. I was Deputy Commissioner of DEC during very tough time in rewriting our water quality standards and one of the things we did is look at several different mines. The Fort Knox mine around Fairbanks was permitted, the AJ Mine near Juneau did not make it through the process. From what I’ve seen it is going to be very hard for this mine to make it through the process. But I will say this – I will not fool you about the public process. It makes sense to have a strong public process where we get to analyze what is happening.

Independent Governor Bill Walker of Juneau says it’s ‘fish first.’

We will not trade renewable fish for non-renewable resources. We activated the Bristol Bay Advisory Committee. I am a big believer in local input. I believe those closest to the issue are closest to the solution and we listen closely to that. I have been very clear that I am not in favor of that mine and I am very concerned about the mine. I am concerned about what it could do. I had an interesting discussion with a group about that and they said it can be done safely. My response was ‘what if it doesn’t. look at all that is at risk. Alaska has $4.7 trillion of resources in the ground. That is not the right place to put a mine. I am very pro-development, pro mining but not in that location. It is not a risk I am willing to take as governor.

Tomorrow we’ll feature the candidates’ positions on the Stand for Salmon initiative. Thanks to the audio assist from Channel 11’s KTVA.