Lost Mountain, by Anne Coray, is a book from the geographic heart of Alaska’s biggest mining controversy of the 21st century – so far.
Coray knows the territory well, being born and raised in the highlands of Bristol Bay on Lake Clark. In this novel, she created a community of creative minds, an arts and crafts village that has many of the same concerns as the native villages in the region and some particular to a colony made for artists; she calls it Whetstone Cove, Alaska. The passions run deep here. Some are sensual, as in the carving of sculptures by the central figure, Dehlia Melven and by neighbors who are potters, painters, musicians and writers. All welcome tourists by plane to purchase an expensive piece of art or two on day trips from Anchorage.
Between manufacture and sale are intertwined human sensual relationships, present, past and pending. These are working novels, hidden affairs, and even in the background an impending were-bear after death stalking former lovers. The author has the background necessary to imagine the passions of artists. Sometimes the work comes first, but in others it is put aside as the artists throw themselves in, limbs entwined.
Now comes the prospect of the Ziggurat mine, like the pebble mine, better or worse, looming in real life. People wonder where their personal and community benefits lie. Some will clearly benefit from the promotion alone: pilots piloting geologists and companies receiving infusions of money that some appear to be bribes posing as grants.
The fundamental questions remain: who owns Bristol Bay and who is responsible here? Will art and subsistence be swallowed up by the needs of a giant mine? Will Whetstone become a comfortable town for minors, with gambling, alcohol, sex and drug establishments?
The memory of Front Street, Nome and McCarthy, near the Kennecott mine, is not so far away. There is Red Dog Mine, for example, where the local rental was only done because it is on native land. However, Ziggurat (like Pebble) must be on state land that must meet the U.S. definition of “ resident ” when hiring, like anyone eligible to vote in Alaska – that is that is, a 30-day resident.
Coray emphasizes threats to fisheries due to watershed contamination, but does not present the details of the change. The natural sounds drowned out by ore hauling, blasting, crushing, and helicopter traffic for 24 hours are the byproducts of big mining.
The large money brings political influence in terms of industry demands for state building infrastructure: seaport, airport, highway, bridges, power supply. If it were the Pebble mine, the cost to the state could be $ 2 billion. Alaska, fortuitously, has the lowest royalties and taxes in North America, north of Mexico, according to the Fraser Institute’s Mining Development Think Tank. This put Northern Dynasty in a difficult position with regulators in Canada and the United States, which has led to at least six class actions from investors who claim they have been duped over the outlook for the Pebble mine.
Coray’s creation, Ziggurat Mine, is not reviewed at this point and some steamy romances remain untangled in what I hope will be just her Whetstone Cove-based debut novel. I care about his characters, his observations of natural history are both gentle and precise.
The fate of the Bay and the inhabitants of Bristol Bay is unknown. Whether the mine is the usual big Alaskan scam preying on investors or whether it can actually happen needs to be taken seriously. The peace and dignity of the region have been disturbed.