The yearlong residents of Iliamna -- around half of whom are native -- rely mainly on subsistence fishing and hunting.America Tonight
As strongly as native groups in the Bristol Bay area oppose the mine, others closer to the site support it.
Lisa Reimers likes to remind people that "not everyone goes fishing.” She's the CEO of the Iliamna Development Corporation, a native-owned company headquartered about 15 miles from Pebble.
"Everybody wants to talk about fish and the environment, which is important," she said. "But there’s also people who live in these villages."
The village of Iliamna, with about 100 year-round residents, is typical of the small communities that dot the interior of Alaska. Job opportunities are scarce and winters are brutally harsh, with little opportunity for subsistence hunting or fishing.
Reimers’ company hauls fuel, runs barges and rents construction equipment. It has been the biggest local employer at Pebble, at one point providing more than 100 workers to the site.
According to the Alaska Miners Association, mining jobs in the state pay an average annual wage of $100,000. In short, Pebble — with its hundreds of steady jobs — could make a big impact in the small towns nearby. The mining company has said it will make hiring local residents a priority.
Reimer resents how much of the criticism directed at the proposed mine is coming from environmental groups outside of Alaska, or from well-heeled companies like the sport fishing outfitter Orvis and the jeweler Tiffany and Company. She accuses them of relying on "scare" tactics.
“They’re not talking about the people that live here. The people are the ones that are struggling to survive and pay their fuel, their electricity, the high prices of groceries,” she said. Without the mine, Reimers said, Iliamna "could die."
Heatwole, the Pebble Partnership executive and a lifelong Alaskan, echoes that sentiment. "I recognize the need for responsible resource development to create jobs and economies that allow me to live in this land that I love.”
The upcoming year could be a decisive one for Pebble’s future. Beyond the battle in Congress, at the EPA and in the courts, voters in Alaska will consider a ballot measure this fall that could allow state legislators to ban the mine. It’s a war on many fronts, with neither side certain of the outcome.