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Amidst BBNC pressure, Williams resigns from Pebble advisory committee

After weeks of hostility, Williams says a respectful letter from BBNC board chair Joe Chythlook convinced her to step down. Williams had hired an attorney to protect her seat on BBNC board after she agreed to join new Pebble committee as an opponent to the mine.

Just weeks after joining the Pebble Mine’s new advisory committee, Kim Williams of Dillingham announced she has now resigned from that position.

Audio transcript: Williams is a longtime opponent of the Pebble Mine, and when she agreed to become an advisor to the project, albeit as an opponent, the backlash was swift. She was ousted as the director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of village corporations and tribal councils, and she says the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Board asked her to resign her seat. The retaliation was not what she was expecting, but she says it came mostly from the top.

"I received the most severe comments from leadership within the region," she said Wednesday. "In talking with people I know, to shareholders, to people who have been involved who have always supported me in my work on Pebble, I received a lot of comments from people saying ‘We support you, we know what you’re doing, it’s good to have somebody on the advisory committee that takes a no Pebble position,’ which I still do.”

Prior to her announcement, Williams says the BBNC board offered to buy her out of the remainder of her term if she would resign. Other shareholders called for a recall vote. She hired an attorney to help defend her position as a director. The only other person ousted from the BBNC board had been accused of rape; Williams says she had broken no bylaws and was not going to give up the seat shareholders had elected her to. But the hostility eroded Monday when board chairman Joe Chythlook hand delivered a letter respectfully asking that she step down from Pebble’s advisory committee.

“This letter was a way for both of us, both myself and the BBNC board, to come to some resolve regarding the Pebble advisory board," Williams said. "And because they were respectful in asking me to do something, I have complied.”

BBNC said Wednesday that board chair Joe Chythlook was not available for comment as he is getting ready to fish. But in a statement, Chythlook said that the region remains "overwhelmingly opposed to Pebble", and the board believes that the “proposed mine, in any economically feasible configuration, would have irreversible detrimental impacts on the waters, fisheries, wildlife, people, lifestyle, and fishing-based economy of the region.”

Chytlook wrote that BBNC is keeping an open dialogue with Pebble.

Chairman of Pebble’s board of directors, John Shively, says that is not the case. He says BBNC has turned a cold shoulder to Pebble and others who don’t hold their same set of views.

“Obviously they do not want discourse, or anybody near them that would even think about discourse," Shively said Wednesday. He referenced his four decades' long relationship with Pebble opponent Bobby Andrew, saying the two of them could disagree but still talk to each other. "And the fact that people won’t talk [anymore], to me, makes no sense. I think there is some fear that by talking they may actually learn something that interferes with the views that they so strongly hold.”

Shively recruited the members of the advisory committee, none of whom were asked to take a stance in support of the project, take any pay for their time, or even agree to confidentiality. In fact, he says he sought out Kim Williams in particular because of "her very active opposition to Pebble."

"That’s the kind of person we wanted on the advisory committee. And the BBNC board basically came and threatened her, bullied her, by saying ‘if you don’t resign from this advisory board, we’re going to use the whole power of the corporation to take you off the board with a shareholder vote'," he said.

BBNC declined comment beyond chairman Chythlook's written statement.

Williams says she is glad to have put the heated BBNC board issues to rest for now, but steps off the Pebble advisory committee with some regret.

“I’m disappointed in the fact that people can’t understand that serving on the Pebble advisory committee actually gives you a wealth of information that you normally don’t have," she said.

Pebble says committee members will have access to the company’s detailed plans and information so they can offer guidance and feedback. After she resigned, Williams said she still asked Shively if she could take a look at the proposed smaller mine plan in the works … the answer was a cordial no.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.orgor 907.842.5281