Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Alaska Governor’s Pebble Mine Stance Called into Question

Correspondence between Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and a potential investor in the proposed Pebble mine is prompting questions on whether the governor is neutral on the issue.

The letter in question, sent by Dunleavy to Wheaton Precious Metals Corporation in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 30, assures company president and CEO Randy Smallwood that the governor is “committed to removing obstacles that would hinder immediate construction” of the mine, which would lie adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska.

Alaska Public Media received a copy of the letter through a public records request and then made it available to others, including Norm Van Vactor, president of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, a strong opponent of the mine.

After reading the document, Van Vactor said the governor “sounds more like a paid media consultant for the Pebble mine than the governor of Alaska. This guy doesn’t represent the interests of the vast majority of people in Alaska, and certainly not Bristol Bay.”

Dunleavy wrote in the letter to Smallwood that he had read a letter the company received from the Natural Resources Defense Council, “essentially threatening you not to invest in the Pebble project.” Dunleavy also indicated that the project would be on state land and that the state has a keen interest in the project. “I want to assure you, the state will stand by those who invest in Alaska and will actively help defend them from frivolous and scurrilous attacks, he added.

In a related news report, the governor’s spokesman, Mike Shuckerow, further dismissed mine opponents’ letter to Smallwood on July 24, as “tactics (outside) environmental groups use to discourage investment” in Alaska.

On Aug. 27, a group of mine opponents, including commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen sent their own letter to Smallwood, reminding him that the project is opposed by an overwhelming number of Bristol Bay residents “and indeed one of the most widely condemned development projects anywhere.” In the letter, the mine opponents noted that Dunleavy had suggested to Smallwood that outreach from mine opponents was simply “frivolous and scurrilous attacks” by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The governor’s office declined a request for comment on Dunleavy’s letter to Smallwood, which the mine opponents called “demonstrably false, insulting to the people of Bristol Bay and Alaska.” The mine opponents offered to meet with Smallwood if he is seriously considering investing in the mine, adding that “there are far better places to invest your money.

Signers of the letter included representatives of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Salmon State, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, the Alaska Sportsman’s Alliance, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Bristol Bay Native Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthworks.

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