This week, the Pebble Mine and what it might mean for the Kenai.
The Pebble Limited Partnership has a new voice to help sell its project around the state. Pebble enlisted Mark Hamilton, who was president of the University of Alaska system for more than a decade before retiring in 2010. Hamilton was in Kenai this week to address a Chamber of Commerce luncheon and talk about the new, scaled back version of the project that recently began the federal permitting process.
Pebble Deposit is a more than 400 acre claim in Bristol Bay, so what would be in it for the Kenai?
“I think primarily it’s the job opportunities,” Hamilton said. “We want to keep as many of those as close to the mine as we could, and you’re just across the Inlet from the mine, so I think it’s primarily jobs. If they start (training) now, and can develop these skill sets over time, it’s a gimme. You’re always going to hire the qualified person closest to the project. You don’t have to worry about the shipping of them back and forth. Two on, two off.”
Hamilton says that kind of schedule can allow workers to maintain subsistence traditions. And in talking about this new plan, there seems to be more acknowledgement of the local concerns that have stirred up stiff opposition to the mine, in any form, for years.
“When they first had the dram of Pebble mine, people came in and greeted Alaska with arrogance. What they said, in essence, was ‘who in the heck wouldn’t want to mine $400 billion worth of ore?’ And Alaskans said ‘Wait a minute. We wouldn’t want to do it if it hurts the environment. We wouldn’t want to do it if it hurts fish.’ They tried to sell it by sheer force of the economic opportunity doesn’t work in Alaska because we care about our environment.”
The revised plan tries to account for some of those earlier concerns, mainly with a smaller footprint. But the operation will demand tremendous amounts of electrical power, up to 230 megawatts. That electricity would be generated by natural gas, piped from the Kenai Peninsula.
“It would start at Happy Valley, go down to Anchor Point, come across the water under Cook Inlet and also under Lake Illiamna," Hamilton said.
But it’s going to be awhile before any of those opportunities, natural gas sales and high-paying mining jobs, make themselves available here. The permitting process, despite its recently reported fast track status, will still take years to complete, and overcoming the mine’s strong opposition in Bristol Bay will be no small task. The public comment period for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement was recently extended to June 29th.
This week’s number: 155
That’s how many retail jobs the Kenai Peninsula Borough lost between 2015 and 2017. That, according to a new report from Alaska Economic Trends, a monthly newsletter put out by the state department of labor and workforce development. A now two-year long recession has put the pinch on consumer spending and by extension retail job security. But e-commerce has also had an impact. That was a big reason for Radio Shack closing more than 1,000 stores nation wide over the past few years, including three here on the Peninsula. State economist Neal Fried notes in the report that despite lots of big name retail store closings recently, others are still opening up, though at far lower rates than the retail boom of the 1990’s. And cannabis stores offer at least some new opportunity in the retail arena, but, Fried writes, as long as the state’s economy is contracting, retail jobs will follow suit.