Legislators: Pebble mine could spark a cataclysmic mistake

BBNC to potential investor: It is the wrong mine for the wrong place

Norm Van Vactor, executive director of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham, speaks for opponents of the Pebble mine in the pouring rain in Anchorage. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

Claims of Gov. Mike Dunleavy to a potential investor in the Pebble mine project that the state will actively help defend the project from “frivolous and scurrilous attacks” are drawing a sharp rebuttal from 20 Alaska legislators and the Bristol Bay Native Corp.

In their Sept. 9 letter to Randy Smallwood, president and chief executive officer of Wheaton Precious Metals Corp., in Vancouver, British Columbia, the legislators said that while the mine “may provide some economic benefit to Alaska, it sits near the headwaters of the largest salmon run in the world. Dewatering and re-routing these headwaters could devastate our cherished resource, as would a single cataclysmic mistake.”

Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., also wrote to Smallwood, to advise him that while Gov. Dunleavy “impliedly characterized” opposition to the mine as coming solely from national environmental groups, that the majority of BBNC’s shareholders, and particularly shareholders living in the Bristol Bay region, are strongly opposed the project. 

“It is the wrong mine for the wrong place because it is a pyritic deposit, of very low concentration, located near the headwaters of the world’s greatest remaining wild sockeye salmon fishery,” Metrokin said in his Aug. 29 letter.

The salmon resource, which has sustained the region’s human and wildlife resources for over 135 years, also annually generates over a billion dollars in total economic output and supports thousands of jobs, Metrokin said. Nearly every household in Bristol Bay participates in the subsistence fishery, harvesting hundreds of pounds of salmon annually, a practice that every summer brings the people of Bristol Bay home and connects multiple generations, he said.

Tim Bristol, executive director of Salmon State, with Carly Wier, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, joined several hundred demonstrators outside the DenaÕina Convention Center in Anchorage on April 16 to protest against permitting the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

Metrokin also noted that in 2018 the BBNC board of directors passed a resolution prohibiting BBNC lands or resources to be used for Pebble’s transportation corridor.

“Every transportation option being considered in the draft environmental impact statement crosses BBNC surface or subsurface estate lands,” he said. “BBNC will not grant the Pebble Limited Partnership any permission to use our lands or resources. This is a prohibition we have candidly shared with both the Pebble Limited Partnership and the Corps of Engineers.”

In response to a request for comment on opposition voiced by the legislators and BBNC, Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, said, “We have had conversations with a range of potential investors, and we cannot comment on any prospective investor/partner. We continue to have productive discussions with a range of companies about the project and when we have something formal to announce we will do so.”

Heatwole declined further comment on points raised by mine opponents.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently is reviewing 115,936 comments submitted in response to their draft environmental impact statement on the project. The project lies on a 417-square-mile claim on state lands. The PLP hopes to mine a total of 1.4 billion tons of material over the life of the project, mining at the rate of up to 66 million tons a year.

Updates on their progress are posted online at pebbleprojecteis.com.

Legislators who signed the letter said that as individual Alaskans, their opposition to the project arose from the potentially severe social, economic and cultural risks that the mine represents, and that as elected officials their opposition aligns with the interests of their constituents.

“While Alaska can and must develop its resources, the governor’s suggestion that receipt of state permits is all but preordained is deeply flawed,” they said. “Alaskans will vigorously defend their existing cultural and economic interests, and assuming that permitting will be pro forma carries substantial risk. As Alaskans, we refuse to jeopardize an existing, sustainable resource for the sake of an economically dubious project.”

The signers included Senate Majority Leader Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, Senators Elvi-Gray-Jackson, and Bill Wielechowski, all D-Anchorage; and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. House signers included Speaker of the House, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; Representatives Matt Claman, Harriet Drummond and Zack Fields, all D-Anchorage; Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins; Dan Ortiz, non-affiliated; Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage; Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage; Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage; Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage; Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks; and Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel.