Bella Hammond Continues to Fight Pebble
Moving Forward After Winning in Court Against Pebble
Client Perspective: Bella Hammond took on the Pebble Mine as one of the plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge against the State issuing exploration permits for decades without public input. Trustees for Alaska won that case for the plaintiffs before the Alaska Supreme Court. Executive Director Vicki Clark recently visited Bella at her Lake Clark home. This is Bella’s story about why she got involved and stays involved in the fight against Pebble.
I love Alaska. It is a beautiful state and we have so many treasures. Because of these treasures, when development is allowed, we must use extra caution. And that is how I feel about the Pebble Project.
I live on Lake Clark, and it is a blessing to live in peace here with my dogs. I also enjoy visitors who also cherish this place. I grew up in Kanakanak. When we moved to Naknek, I told my husband Jay that I wanted to fish a set net site that was available after being abandoned by gillnetters. My family continues to fish the site. Fish is the livelihood, culture, and lifeblood of this region.
I don’t like to be the center of attention, but when it comes to the issues that I care about, I make my voice heard. The Pebble Project is a true threat to the fish and the way of life that we hold dear in Bristol Bay. I have always had such a connection to fishing and the culture of Bristol Bay; it doesn’t make sense to allow industrial mining at the Pebble deposit. All I see in that project is a huge open pit that can destroy our way of life. There is no doubt in my mind about which is more important—fishing and living off the land in a natural way.
I have flown over the Pebble site many times over the last decade, and it struck me that the intensity of the exploration activities, including helicopters flying all over, was changing the area—and not for the better. I have talked to many people and there are so many concerns about the environmental impacts at Pebble, but also about the divides that have happened within families as Pebble started throwing money at residents to gain their support. This added to my own concerns. And I wanted to do something about it.
I learned in 2009 about the lawsuit that Trustees for Alaska was planning to challenge Pebble’s exploration activities. I talked with respected friends and it became clear that the lawsuit had the potential to bear fruit and get the State to listen to the public when allowing Pebble to impact our public lands and waters. I decided that I needed to become a plaintiff in the case; I had to do something about the problem.
When the superior court ruled against us and the State and Pebble came after us for their attorneys’ fees, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried because I hadn’t done anything wrong—I was not bought off by anyone; I was just doing what I thought—and still think—is right. People were so supportive and pledged to help if the State and Pebble were successful. I would never ask for that, but the support meant a lot to me.
I knew that the public had a right to be involved in the decision making process about Pebble’s permits. It was quite vindicating to have the Alaska Supreme Court rule in our favor.
I am very disappointed, though, in the State’s response to the Supreme Court decision. This summer, the Department of Natural Resources did an inspection of the Pebble site at Pebble’s expense. While there have been many reports of the messes at various drill holes, the inspection report sure looks like a whitewash. I don’t know the reason, but a Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, and several agency staff members only inspected a handful of sites selected by Pebble and many of those sites were only viewed from the air. It doesn’t seem like DNR has any idea of what the full picture of the potential environmental impact is on the ground at Pebble. It seems that the public is again not getting the right information. We have to do more to bring an end to the Pebble threat in Bristol Bay.
What I have learned from our Pebble exploration lawsuit is that it is important to step forward and challenge decisions that violate our rights to our lands and waters. We need more groups like Trustees for Alaska to protect Alaska’s treasures and to stop the efforts to turn Alaska into a toxic waste dump.