Anti-Pebble groups like the Renewable Resources Coalition cite cautionary tales like the Summitville Gold Mine, in Colorado, which was permitted as a "zero-discharge" mine but sterilized 17 miles of the Alamosa River in the mid-eighties, and Utah's Bingham Canyon mine site, which, while far older, features geology similar to Pebble's and has contaminated more than 70 square miles of groundwater. Heatwole rejects these comparisons to older, dirtier mines, insisting that the company is well aware of the environmental risks. But history is against them: A 2006 study of 25 large-scale U.S. mines by the watchdog group Earthworks found that 19 of them failed to comply with the water-quality standards required by their permits.
"The environmental record of hard-rock mining is pathetic," says Daniel Schindler, professor of aquatic fishery and sciences at the University of Washington. "And I'm probably being generous in calling it pathetic."
Rick Halford, a former Alaska state senator who's generally pro-extraction but opposes the Pebble mine, summed it up at the Dillingham meeting. "Mining is an important part of Alaska's heritage," he said. "But this particular prospect, in this particular location, is a disaster for all time."
It was my third day on the Erika Leigh, and we were anchored in the middle of the bay during an active fishing perioda huge breach of protocol because, when their nets are in the water, the boats drift with the current, motoring around only when the nets are pulled in. We were a still point in a cat's cradle of nets. Already that morning, Bloom's boat had gotten tangled with trailing nets from two other boats; now a third was drifting toward us. Before long, its net was wrapped tightly around the Erika Leigh's snub-nosed bow.
"Fucking motherfucker fuck!" the exasperated captain shouted when he saw what had happened. "You guys should have been drifting!"
Bloom had suffered through a nagging morning of battery and engine problems that had forced her to stop fishing, shut down the boat, and anchor up. Then the engine wouldn't restart. Later, after being towed out of harm's way, she checked in by radio with her father, 63-year-old Art Bloom, who reminded her that fishing with engine trouble was a bad move.
"If you wake up with a dead battery, you can't just go fishing," he said, in the daily installment of their Socratic dialogue. Art, who was aboard his boat Cape Clear, had lived most of his life with fish. He came to Alaska in 1972 as a fisheries biologist with the Forest Service, once owned a fly-fishing business, and has had a Bristol Bay permit for 18 years. Lindsey worked her first season for him at 17. Six years later she took over the Erika Leigh, and while the two usually fish near each other, she was in a different part of the bay that day. "When you've got something wrong," he continued, "you've got to figure out what's behind it right away."
"Yeah, I know," said Bloom, madder at herself than her dad was. In past seasons, she, like any young captain, had hit a few rough patchesnets caught in props, hydraulic-system failures, tearful breakdowns, even a man overboard. "The self-reliance you have to learn to fish out here is powerful," she said. "When the shit hits the fan, nobody is going to come save you."