Fishermen, tribal communities and legislators are reacting to a report last week from CNN alleging Gov. Mike Dunleavy worked in close coordination with the company behind the Pebble Mine project.
“Is it really that surprising that this is what we’re continuing to see given (Dunleavy’s) relationship with the president and the mining company?” asked Lindsay Layland, deputy director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, an organization of tribes in Southwest Alaska.
“When you look back on it, the fact that our governor has already written letters to investors,” Layland said in a phone interview Monday, referencing a July 30 letter Dunleavy sent to Randy Smallwood of Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. In the letter Dunleavy told Smallwood the State of Alaska has “a keen interest” in the project.
“It’s an email I didn’t expect to see, but thinking back on it kind of makes sense,” Layland says.
Dunleavy told the Empire in a Dec. 20 phone call he supports the review process for all projects in the state by the appropriate agencies and wanted to make sure any project gets a fair vetting in the permitting process.
“If permitting process demonstrates that Pebble is going to be harmful to the environment, then that’s not a project that’ll go through,” Dunleavy said. “But again, I want to know what the studies and what the permitting process says.”
On Dec. 19, CNN reported it had obtained a number of emails between the governor’s office and the Pebble Partnership allegedly showing the company was “secretly coaching (Dunleavy’s) office in how to influence the Trump administration.”
Dunleavy’s office and representatives from Pebble have argued it’s not unusual for interested parties to suggest language to government officials concerning projects.
“Many times administrations seek information from various interests,” said Mike Heatwole, spokesperson for the Pebble Mine project for the Pebble Partnership. “What an administration or folks choose to do with it is entirely up to them.”
CNN published a letter from Dunleavy to the Army Corps of Engineers which was nearly identical to a draft version sent to his office by Pebble. In the interview with the Empire, Dunleavy said there was always review of information from parties on both sides of an issue.
“The assumption that’s it’s verbatim — I don’t necessarily agree that it’s verbatim,” Dunleavy said.
Heatwole accused CNN of running a narrative against the Pebble Mine project and not publishing all the information the company has sent them.
“CNN has been very selective,” he said. “They have a narrative against the project. We’ve shared with them quite a bit more than they run with.”
But opponents of the Pebble Mine were troubled by the governor’s actions.
“The whole thing is extremely ironic. He’s telling Alaskans to trust the process, but behind the scenes he’s working with a heavy hand to support Pebble,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska Director of Trout Unlimited. “It makes me wonder who the governor has in mind when he’s making these decisions. Is it Alaskans, or is it a foreign owned mining company?”
Pebble Partnership’s parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals, is headquarted in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“If this sort of coordination is truly happening, it is staggering the administration would allow the State of Alaska to be involved in this manner,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said in a statement.
David Harsila, president of Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association, said his organization has been working for 14 years to preserve the fisheries in Bristol Bay.
“It seems highly unethical to me,” Harsila said of the alleged coordination.
The governor’s contention is that he felt the preemptive veto on the Pebble project used by the EPA under the Obama administration didn’t give the mine a fair chance to demonstrate what it could do for Alaska.
“I don’t know what Pebble is going to be until it has the opportunity to go through a study process,” Dunleavy said. “My issue with the preemptive veto is you don’t even get to that point.”
Asked if the coordination between the governor and the Pebble Partnership indicated that Dunleavy has already made a decision regarding the mine, Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said simply, “no.” Dunleavy remains officially neutral on the project.
Critics, however, say the emails show Dunleavy had already made up his mind concerning the project.
“This administration has been working behind closed doors to push this project forward before any permitting process has been done,” Layland said. “As far as this state administration is concerned and his relationship with the Pebble Partnership, it’s very concerning for the people of this region who’ve been fighting for decades to protect our way of life.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.