Once Kraft changes into cowboy boots and loads up, we’re airborne again, swinging over the lake, and a mere 90 seconds later we land at what the Pebble folks call the Overlook, a 1,700-foot-tall hill and the highest spot on the known deposit.
We climb out of the chopper onto an expanse so vast that all sense of scale is lost: open, slow-rolling country in every direction, broken only by thumbprints of standing water, seeps, and streams that look like pale cursive script against the amber and crimson grasses. The Pebble Partnership owns 414 square miles of mining claims in the region—all of it on Alaska state land—and we’re standing right where its enormous pit might soon be.
Each year, the site is expected to produce 318 million pounds of copper, 23,000 pounds of gold, and 100,000 pounds of silver. “We’re coming in and dealing with the easiest deposit to get,” Collier says, motioning toward our feet and the earth beneath. “We can mine this by moving very little material, with a very small footprint.”
As we talk, Collier and Kraft are polite, maybe a little awkward. But later, in follow-up interviews, when they address opposing arguments, one word will come up over and over: Bullshit. Not salmon. Not gold. Bullshit. Bullshit! BULLSHIT!
It’s not terribly surprising that Kraft, as a fishing guide and longtime Bristol Bay resident, has ended up in the middle of this argument. Collier, on the other hand, took a highly unlikely route to his role as head of the Pebble Partnership and to finding himself here this September morning, having this debate.
Born in Mississippi, he went to high school in Memphis, then, for undergrad, to the University of Virginia, where he served as student body president. On his left hand, he still wears a silver ring, emblazoned with a black Z, for the Z Society—“a silly college club,” he says, but it’s UVA’s oldest secret society; several top government officials are rumored to have been members.