After Greg Anelon, from Newhalen, squeezed himself into a booth at Spenard Road House in Anchorage Thursday night, he got himself settled and serious, momentarily. "I love spending Pebble's money," he said, pausing before slapping the table and laughing a big, hearty laugh.
It was a gesture Anelon repeated often in the hour or so he spent eating his steak and talking about life and his involvement in helping the Pebble Partnership’s efforts in building the world's biggest gold and copper mine in his back yard. Part of that involvement includes sitting on a board that chooses who will get the millions of dollars Pebble has donated to a community fund. He was in Anchorage for one of those board meetings. “I’ll spend as much as they give us,” he said with a laugh.
Wading into the middle of one of Alaska's most polarizing natural resources fights hasn't sapped Anelon's humor, but it has made him more aware of the delicate, sometimes finicky relationship between Alaskans and the state’s resources. Through it all, Anelon has been educated on how his community, family and even his own pocketbook may benefit by extracting the vast underground riches at the Pebble site in Southwest Alaska.
That’s why he’s working against a local ballot initiative that, if enacted and held up in court, would all but kill Pebble mine. The ballot initiative was organized by a group called Save Our Salmon. Ballots have already been mailed throughout the Lake and Peninsula Borough, an area of about 1600 people spread out over region roughly the size of West Virginia. They must be postmarked by Tuesday, Oct. 4.
The group behind Save Our Salmon has raised more than $400,000 so far in its fight against Pebble. And almost all of the money has come from Bob Gillam, one of Alaska’s wealthiest citizens who runs McKinley Capital Management, an investment firm.
Gilliam’s interest is personal: He owns a nine-bedroom, 14,000-square-foot private lodge on an in-holding of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, about 20 miles from the proposed mine and just north of the largest salmon-spawning areas in the world. Gillam loves his lodge and he loves to fish. "Only two things matter in life," Gillam was quoted in a 1995 magazine article as saying. "Getting rich and catching fish."
Anelon is not one of Alaska’s wealthiest citizens. But with the Pebble Partnership backing him, he’s taking on Gilliam and Save Our Salmon, chairing a group called “Defend Your Rights: Vote No on the ‘Save our Salmon’ Initiative.” Anelon’s group has raised about $200,000, with the majority coming from Pebble Partnership. Pebble has also provided other contributions, like staff support.
Anelon is 50 years old and has four children. He holds a degree in rural development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He, like his ancestors before him, live in Newhalen a dot of a village in Southwestern Alaska next to Iliamna, its sister village. Both villages are about 15 miles from what prospective Pebble developers -- Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals and London-based Anglo American -- believe to be the largest undeveloped gold and copper mine on Earth.
With gold fetching about $1,600 per ounce, the stakes are huge. Pebble holds more than 100 million ounces of gold and more than 80 billion pounds of recoverable copper. For Anelon, that could mean a new future for the hardscrabble region.
Jobs vs. fish
Greg Anelon is a manager for Iliamna Development Corp., which was founded in 2004 and services some of the exploration work at the Pebble deposit.
Iliamna Development employs about 40 people, mostly from the region, Anelon said. It's a good job, he added -- one of the only good jobs in the area.