Legislators say Dunleavy got it wrong on Alaskans’ support for Pebble Mine

(Photo by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Flickr)

Twenty legislators joined the Bristol Bay Native Corporation in writing to a potential investor for the controversial Pebble Mine project, telling him that Alaska’s support for the project was far overstated in a letter penned by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy earlier this year.

Dunleavy sent a letter to Randy Smallwood, the president and CEO of the Canada-based Wheaton Precious Metals, on July 30 assuring him that “the state will stand by those who invest in Alaska and will actively help defend them from frivolous and scurrilous attacks.” Dunleavy’s letter came in response to yet another letter from the Natural Resources Defense Council that outlined opposition to the project.

Though the governor has shied away from taking an official position on the project, many saw the letter as an outright sign of support as well as a dismissal of local concerns the project could pose to Alaska’s fisheries and the Bristol Bay region. Few politicians have explicitly said they support the project with many, instead, saying they support a fair permitting process, as Dunleavy did in his July 30 letter.

“A fair, efficient, and thorough permitting process, without interference and threats from project opponents, is essential to the future economic growth of Alaska,” Dunleavy wrote. “I am committed to making that happen, and once appropriate permits are granted, I am equally committed to removing obstacles that would hinder immediate construction.”

The latest letter from 20 legislators say Alaskans in general are far less enthusiastic about the mine as Dunleavy suggests, writing “we believe misrepresents the ease with which the state might permit the proposed Pebble Mine, and the reception it is likely to receive from those living in the region.”

The letter is signed by Senate Majority Leader Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage. They were among 16 Democrats to sign onto the letter. Kodiak Republicans Sen. Gary Stevens and Rep. Louise Stutes were the two Republicans to sign the measure. Independent lawmakers House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, also signed.

“Opposition to this project is both local and statewide, and is not frivolous, slanderous or interference. As individual Alaskans, our opposition to this project arises from the potentially severe social, economic, and cultural risks that the Pebble Mine represents. As elected officials, our opposition to this project aligns with the interests of our constituents,” the group wrote in its letter. “While Alaska can and must develop its resources, the governor’s suggestion that receipt of state permits is all but preordained is deeply flawed.”

The letter outlines the potential risks the mine would pose to the Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery, arguing that a sustainably managed fishery is more important to Alaska than the short-term impact of a mine.

“In contrast to sustainable fisheries, the economic benefit of mineral extraction is relatively short-term. … While the Pebble Mine may provide some economic benefit to Alaska, it sits near the headwaters of the largest salmon run in the world. De-watering and re-routing these headwaters could devastate our cherished resources, as would a single cataclysmic mistake,” the group said, later adding, “As Alaskans, we refuse to jeopardize an existing, sustainable resource for the sake of an economically dubious project.”

The legislators’ letter ends with a particularly scathing line:

“Wheaton Precious Metals Corporation has the right to invest its money as it sees fit. Previous investors in this venture have fled the Pebble Project due to the difficulty of turning a profit and the unrelenting public opposition. Should Wheaton choose to invest in this project, we doubt that these underlying conditions will change.”

The 20 legislators aren’t the only group that sought to set the record straight in light of Dunleavy’s letter.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation CEO and President Jason Metrokin also sent a letter to Smallwood, which was published by the Anchorage Daily News on Monday, that also painted a more complicated picture of Alaskans’ attitudes toward the project.

Metrokin included results from polls conducted by BBNC, which showed 83 percent of shareholders who live in Bristol Bay oppose the project. The latest statewide poll conducted by BBNC showed only 35 percent of all Alaskans supported the mine, according to the letter.

“To the extent Wheaton Precious Metals is looking at the Pebble project, I am sure you are doing due diligence. What I hope you take away from this letter is that the proposed Pebble mine poses risks to the economy, cultures and people of Bristol Bay that are unacceptable to BBNC and the vast majority of people in Bristol Bay, and there is a dedicated and unwavering opposition to the project both in Bristol Bay and across Alaska that will not go away and will not give up,” Metrokin wrote. “Our home-grown opposition is sincere, science and fact-based, deep and committed.”

The legislators’ letter

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