Bristol Bay Native Corp. Opposes Pebble
Posted 12.11.09 by Renewable Resources Coalition
The Bristol Bay Native Corp. board voted Friday to oppose the development of the massive copper and gold Pebble prospect in Southwest Alaska and offshore oil and gas leasing in the Bering Sea.
On Pebble, the company said it is against the proposed mine given "the unquantifiable impacts the project could have on the natural resources of the Bristol Bay region."
On proposed offshore leasing, the company said it believes the risks of drilling, including spills, to the Bering Sea's marine resources and communities that rely on the resources "far outweigh any potential local or national benefits."
The two issues -- Pebble and offshore oil and gas -- have been hotly debated in Bristol Bay villages and around Alaska in the past few years. Some have argued that the projects are incompatible with protecting Bristol Bay and Bering Sea fisheries -- the region's long-time source of jobs and subsistence. Others say that the region should develop its oil, gas and minerals to provide a new source of income and revenue for Southwest Alaska villages struggling from high fuel costs.
The mining company pursuing Pebble said Friday that its work will progress. Its goal is to craft a development plan that won't harm the region's fisheries, and it plans to keep sharing information with the Native corporation.
Bristol Bay is one of the 13 Alaska regional Native corporations Congress created in the 1970s. It owns a large amount of mineral rights throughout the Bristol Bay region. It also owns businesses involved in environmental engineering and cleanup, pipeline corrosion on the North Slope, Lower 48 fuel sales and other businesses. It has more than 8,500 Eskimo, Aleut and Athabascan shareholders who live in Bristol Bay region villages or who have roots in the region.
Though the corporation is not directly involved in Bristol Bay's fishing industry, fish remain its highest priority, said company Bay chief executive Jason Metrokin.
"A large portion of our shareholders are Bristol Bay (fishing) permit holders," he said.
NO LONGER NEUTRAL
The Native corporation has maintained a neutral position on the Pebble project -- located on state-owned land, not Native land -- since 2006 but has collected information about the project and gathered input from its shareholders, company officials said.
The Pebble Partnership, composed of Canadian explorer Northern Dynasty Minerals and London mining giant Anglo American, has not yet finalized a development plan for its project or applied for the permits needed to build a mine.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said the Bristol Bay board vote was disappointing.
"We will continue to press forward with our work to conclude a pre-feasibility study and a responsible mine development plan for Pebble. Once we have a mine development plan that outlines, with facts, the full opportunity Pebble could present to the region, and to the state of Alaska, we will share that with stakeholders, including the leadership at BBNC. It's important to stress that any mine development plan we bring forward will be based upon co-existing with the fishery in the Bristol Bay region," Heatwole said.
Bristol Bay said it plans to weigh in during the mine's permitting process with federal and state agencies. "Maintaining a neutral stance on the Pebble Mine project is no longer in the best interest of the corporation or to the values of cultural and economic sustainability to which we hold ourselves," said Bristol Bay board chairman Joseph Chythlook in a press release.
Company officials declined to disclose the breakdown of the board member votes on the Pebble and oil and gas drilling resolutions.
Bristol Bay's votes on mining and drilling carry weight because the corporation is the combined voice of thousands of Alaska Native shareholders who live in the region. Also, the company is one of the region's major landowners.
Metrokin, the chief executive, said it is not clear right now whether developers of Pebble would need to use the company's subsurface land. Such uses could include gravel to build roads necessary for moving equipment, fuel or other items. If asked, permission would be denied, Metrokin said.
In contrast, to gain access to the mine site, Pebble developers probably would need to obtain permission to cross surface land owned by the region's Native village corporations.
What about the vote's impact on oil and gas drilling? So far, no companies are exploring for oil and gas in the area, but the Bristol Bay vote is likely to gain attention from federal officials involved in those matters.
The federal Minerals Management Service has proposed a lease sale in an area of the Bering called the North Aleutian Basin, outside of Bristol Bay but near the Alaska Peninsula, in waters used by migrating fish, crab and other animals. The MMS has proposed holding lease sales in 2011 and 2014.
Bristol Bay Native Corp. opposes Pebble
NO OIL, GAS LEASES: Hot debate ends with protection of fisheries, resources.
Published: December 12th, 2009 10:51 PM
Last Modified: December 12th, 2009 10:51 PM
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.