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Former Alaska Governor's Wife Lobbies for Game Refuge

Jason Moore / KTUU-TV / February 23, 2007

Anchorage, Alaska - Northern Dynasty Mines has yet to apply for permits or present a development plan for its pebble mine, but already the proposed mine is generating concerns and opposition.

Advertisements are running against the mine and in Juneau legislation has been introduced to make development more difficult. One of those bills has a familiar name attached to it and lobbying for it.
The world's second largest deposit of gold and copper is said to be in these hills, the site of the proposed Pebble Mine, right in the headwaters of Bristol Bay salmon streams, not far from Lake Clark where Bella Hammond lives.

Bella is the widow of former governor Jay Hammond. She grew up near Dillingham and depended on the salmon fishery.     

While she is not weighing in on the pebble mine itself, she is supporting efforts to create the Jay Hammond Game Refuge. The legislation would create added protections for fish and wildlife in the Kvichak and Nushagak river drainages, including the area of the proposed mine.

"The more I heard, the better I like the idea because that mine is right in the area where a very important resource is the fishery," said Bella Hammond.

Hammond recently traveled to a Juneau meeting with lawmakers and the governor. The forces are also lining up to fight the legislation.

"Oh a horror, a horrible thing to happen, to happen to the people of Bristol Bay region and the people of Alaska," said Gail Phillips, Truth About Pebble.

Former House speaker Gail Phillips is with the group Truth About Pebble, funded largely by Northern Dynasty Mines. Phillips says 80 percent of the land in southwest Alaska is already set aside for parks and refuges.

"There's not going to be any land left in southwest Alaska that isn't designated a park or a game reserve, a fish reserve or whatever," said Phillips.

The Lake and Peninsula Borough is also concerned about the proposed 7 million acre refuge.

"It would leave us landlocked and for lack of a better term, we would become refugees," said Glen Alsworth, Lake and Peninsula Borough.

Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens from Kodiak is sponsoring the game refuge legislation.

"The people I represent in Kodiak, Homer, Seward and around Lake Iliamna are all very concerned about what happens to the resource and so this is a way to take a very close look at it," said Stevens.

Bella Hammond says, if nothing else, she hopes the idea creates interest and debate, so those in Juneau understand the concerns felt by many in the area.

"I like this concept and knowing what Jay did over the years as far as the resources, he looked ahead and always worried and was concerned and spent a lot of time worrying about our resources," said Bella Hammond.

It's a battle over resources. Is it possible to develop one and protect the other? It's a question still unanswered in these hills.

The refuge legislation is one of a few different bills introduced and working it's way through the Legislature. A committee hearing on the refuge bill is scheduled for next week.

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