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Pebble advisory committee’s first in-person meeting visits proposed mine site, draws criticism

Brandon Hill

The recently formed Pebble advisory committee advisory committee met to discuss issues related to the Pebble project and to tour the site of the proposed mine. Groups opposed to the mine hit the Anchorage streets with signs and umbrellas to protest.

An advisory committee for the Pebble Limited Partnership held its first in-person meeting this week in Anchorage. Two of the six committee members are from Bristol Bay—AlexAnna Salmon from Igiugig and William Johnson from Dillingham. The other four members represent state and national interests.

The stated goal of the meeting was to familiarize committee members with the range of stakeholder and environmental issues the Pebble project poses. They did that through discussions, presentations and opportunity for questions. On Tuesday they visited the site of the proposed mine site near Iliamna Lake.

Credit William Johnson
William Johnson took photos of the site of the proposed mine from the helicopter during Tuesday's visit with the Pebble advisory committee.

“I think it’s very helpful for folks to get out, take a look around and get a sense for themselves about where the prospect is located, the challenges of how to get the minerals from a mine site to a port site and all of the considerations that go into there,” said Pebble spokesperson Mike Heatwole.

Members of groups opposed to the mine were invited to participate in the meeting and present their views. Among those groups were the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Trout Unlimited, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. None participated.

Instead they held a protest in opposition of the proposed mine in Anchorage at the same time as the advisory committee meeting. Rally leaders said it would be counterproductive for groups opposed to the mine to participate in the meeting.

“It’s a way of the mining company to give itself credibility in regards to it working with the people. The sad thing about all that is they get to hand pick whoever they want to sit on that advisory council,” said Thomas Tilden, a commercial fisherman and who sits on the Cuyung Tribal Council and the board of Nunamta Aulukestai.

Despite the rainy weather, well over 100 people took to the streets with signs and umbrellas to protest. Tilden said that he hopes that rallies like these discourage potential financial backers from supporting the Pebble project.

William Johnson, one of the committee members from Bristol Bay, is a longtime commercial fisherman who has held a variety of positions in the Bristol Bay Native Association and BBNC. He also has deep concerns about the proposed mine. Those concerns lead him to accept the invitation to be a part of the advisory committee.

“If there’s something that’s going to impact the Bristol Bay region or could benefit the Bristol Bay region, the people have to participate. You can’t stand back and throw rocks. You have to participate,” said Johnson.

His primary apprehensions relate to maintaining the water quality near the mine site and downstream. At the meeting, Johnson requested that the Pebble project hire a water consulting firm to test drill holes and to submit an independent report. He was told that his suggestion would be taken under advisement.

Johnson went into the meeting without an official stance for or against the proposed mine. After one meeting he still both had concerns and an open mind.

“This has the potential to be very good for the region or very bad, and I want to know what is very bad, and I want to know what is very good so I can weigh the project on its own merits,” said Johnson.

Pebble aims to file for a permit in December. The advisory committee will likely meet again before the end of the year. They are discussing the possibility of touring an active mine in British Columbia. 

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.