Legislators ask Dunleavy to work with them on mine permit issues

Alaska Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, are asking Gov. Mike Dunleavy to stop working directly with the Pebble Partnership on the efforts to get a Clean Water Act permit for a mine that, they say, has no place in Bristol Bay.

“While there is no doubt that a governor’s job should involve encouraging development projects, such work should be done in the light of day and on behalf of Alaskans,” they said, in a Sept. 29 letter delivered electronically to the governor. “It should not be done behind the scenes in support of a risky and irresponsible project run by executives who deceive regulators and the public, and interfere in our elections, to achieve their aim.”

Dunleavy defended his efforts on behalf of the mine project on Tuesday, Oct. 6, on grounds that one of his duties as governor “is to create economic opportunity for the benefit of all Alaskans, utilizing every available resource within our borders.”

The governor said in a letter to Edgmon and Stutes that the Bristol Bay region suffers from lack of economic opportunity.

“The wild salmon fishery, which I am unwilling to jeopardize, does not operate year-around,” he said.

The governor also cited state statistics that contend that in 2017 only a small percentage of local workers took processing jobs, that locals who fished earned less than outside crews and comprised a minimal number of permitholders.

The Sept. 29 letter from Edgmon and Stutes, who chairs the House Special Committee in Fisheries, came in the wake of release of tapes of top officials overseeing efforts to build the copper, gold and molybdenum mine in the Bristol Bay watershed bragged about political influence at the state and federal level. Investigators for a Washington, D.C.-based environmental nonprofit posing as potential investors in the mine recorded the tapes.

The letter quotes at length Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier and Ron Thiessen, CEO of Hunter Dickenson Inc. a diversified global mining group based in Vancouver, Canada. The Pebble Partnership is the sole subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals, itself a subsidiary of Hunter Dickenson. Collier resigned shortly after the tapes were made public.

Among the numerous references in the tapes to the close working relationship the PLP has with government entities is one by Collier stating that the PLP “would not be able to respond positively to (the Corp’s compensatory mitigation plan requirement) if the state weren’t there as our partner moving forward with this plan.”

Collier went on to say he had a two-hour private meeting with Dunleavy “to get his commitment that they would be there and now we’re working with his department of natural resources and they are being very cooperative in working this through with us.”

The depth of the PLP and NDM’s deception of regulators, Alaskans in general, and the people of Bristol Bay in specific, is now crystal clear with the release of the tapes, Edgmon and Stutes said. They note the ultimate goal is the mine would continue for some 200 years despite the Pebble Partnership’s assertion that they were submitting a smaller mine plan.

The PLP was notified Aug. 20 of its responsibility to provide a compensatory mitigation plan within the next 90 days. If the PLP does, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will review the plan for completeness and, if complete, it will be posted to the Pebble Project EIS website, pebbleprojecteis.com, said John Budnik, USACE Alaska District spokesperson.

The legislators reminded Dunleavy of their concern that development of the mine would pose a serious risk to the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon. The subsistence, commercial and sport harvests made possible by this resource can only continue with careful stewardship, as residents of this region have done for thousands of years, they said. They also reminded the governor that the Legislature has a role in whether the mine should receive state permits and whether permanent preservation of over 640 acres of state lands to advance the mine is appropriate.

Should the administration be working with the Pebble Partnership to commit state lands to support compensatory mitigation for Pebble, or the promise of such, this should be coordinated at this time with the legislative branch to avoid misleading regulators, the public — especially residents of Bristol Bay — or the Pebble Partnership, on the possibility of use of state lands for such purposes, they said.

Dunleavy did not address the legislators’ request that his administration work with the legislative branch to avoid misleading regulators and the public on use of state lands for compensatory mitigation. His letter of response to Edgmon and Stutes never mentioned the legislative branch or compensatory mitigation.

The governor did say it is his role to ensure each project is subject to a fair and rigorous review process and that every opportunity to create thousands of jobs is fully explored.