January 15, 2014
ILIAMNA -- It was another subfreezing day in Alaska as Glen Alsworth prepared for a 200-mile flight to a remote southwestern region of the state. Oreos, diapers and milk were among the items he stored in the back of his plane.
Before long, the single-engine aircraft glided past Redoubt Volcano and through the ravines of glacier-runoff water. Wonder and satisfaction crossed Alsworth's face.
"I look out the window -- that's my office," he exclaimed.
Alsworth is known as the "flying mayor" in the Lake and Peninsula Borough, balancing his time between running his small airline and volunteering as the mayor of a region that's caught in a debate over how international trade will shape Alaska's future.
This isolated place is home to the proposed site of North America's largest open-pit copper mine. Pebble Limited Partnership suspects that more than $300 billion worth of minerals lie below the ground.
But it also sits at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery, home of the world's largest population of wild salmon and a major piece of Alaska's multibillion-dollar seafood export business.
"If you were to pick the world's worst place to put the world's largest open-pit mine, this is an ideal spot," commercial fisherman Mark Niver said, slamming a finger onto a map of Alaska at the anti-Pebble Mine headquarters, set up in one of Anchorage's oldest homes.