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Pebble seats committee of advisors Thursday

Willie Hensley, Kimberly Williams, Jim Maddy, Gen. Joseph Ralston, and Terrence 'Rock' Salt first five committed to join new advisory committee. Company says participants can review and provide feedback on any part of the project they choose, and will not be limited as to what they can disclose or say about Pebble's plans.

The Pebble Partnership announced Thursday that is has officially formed anew advisory committee in an effort to expand its engagement with stakeholders.

Audio transcript: “We’re putting together an Advisory Committee to help advise us on a range of issues regarding Pebble, everything from engineering to environmental design to community benefits and concerns," Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said Thursday.

Pebble has five people of various backgrounds who have committed to join. Jim Maddy is a past president of both the League of Conservation Voters and the National Park Foundation. Terrence ‘Rock’ Salt is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. General Joe Ralston is a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kimberly Williams is a former executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai and a chief with the Curyung Tribe, and Willie Hensley is longtime Alaska leader who served in both the state House and Senate:

“Willie certainly has a great reputation and level of experience in Alaska. He’s very respected in the Alaska Native community, and also has done a lot of work with the development community, and kind of bridges a lot of different stakeholder groups and interests," said Heatwole.

One of the first tasks for these five will be to recruit five to seven additional members to the committee. There was early criticism that Pebble was buying out its critics. As to pay, Heatwole said committee members can receive a small "honorarium" to compensate for their time, travel, and expense, but can also decline that if they wish. Pebble says the participants will "not be bound by confidentiality agreements or any other limitation on their rights of public expression," including to speak in opposition to the controversial project.

“We wanted to make sure that we had a range of views, from maybe proponent, to neutral and process focused, to opponents, so that we’re getting critical input and advice," said Heatwole.

Last week the EPA agreed to back down from a proposed preemptive veto, and Pebble agreed to put a project into the permitting phase within 30 months. Pebble says they have a smaller, modern mine plan in the works and a number of initiatives they want to talk about soon with the Bristol Bay region. Heatwole says the advisory committee will get to review these plans and offer feedback.

“Their advice will be shared with the company, and we’re simply going to try to take as much of that onboard as we can. And really ... pretty wide open in terms of what they can look at and the types of things they can comment to us about.”

According to Heatwole, Pebble hopes to get the committee members together for the first time this summer for a full project overview and trip to the site north of Iliamna. Thereafter, the committee will meet formally two to three times a year and more often by phone or video conference.

Pebble has agreed to make the committee’s work and comments public, including any recommendations the company does not adopt. 

Nunamta Aulukestai slammed the announcement of the committee, which it learned of when Kim Williams was asked and agreed to join. She was fired by the board for doing so. In it's own press release, Nunamta said the committee "is not independent. It will not consider the "no mine" option, nor put the best interests of Bristol Bay and Alaska over the profits of its foreign parent company," the association of village corporations and tribes wrote.

Interim executive director Myrtice Evalt said "any large-scale industrial mining of the Pebble deposit will threaten the world's largest sockeye fishery. ... This is sham committee designed to make this mine seem inevitable. It is not."