The Pebble project developer has teamed up with an Alaska Native corporation from the North Slope, drawing sharp opposition from project opponents in Bristol Bay who say the Pebble partner, an Arctic Slope Regional Corp. subsidiary, should stick to projects in its own backyard.
The Pebble Partnership announced Tuesday that it has contracted with ASRC Energy Services Alaska, an ASRC subsidiary, to increase contracting opportunities for Alaska Native village corporations with land holdings near the controversial gold and copper project in Southwest Alaska.
After signing a settlement with the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency in May that ended a lawsuit over EPA's effort to restrict the project, Pebble is moving ahead with plans to seek state and federal permits for development. That phase, plus construction and operation if permits are acquired, could open new possibilities for contracts, training and local jobs, said Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesman.
AES was chosen because it has experience working with Native village corporations to boost business opportunities associated with North Slope resource development, Pebble said in a statement.
"We want to maximize the opportunity for folks in the region, and this is one way is to enhance the business relationships we have with village corporations," said Heatwole.
Alannah Hurley, executive director for Pebble opponent United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said Pebble wants to "divide and conquer" communities in a region where people polled on their opinions have shown strong opposition to the project.
She said ASRC, the Native corporation for communities from the oil-rich North Slope, hundreds of miles north of Bristol Bay, was out of line.
"No one from Bristol Bay has ever told the people of the North Slope how to develop their resources," Hurley said. "It's tragic ASRC cannot extend us the same courtesy and respect."
Opponents fear mining at the giant Pebble prospect will pollute major Bristol Bay headwaters, killing the giant salmon fishery that provides food and jobs for residents.
Bristol Bay Native Corp., the Alaska Native corporation for Bristol Bay and a Pebble opponent, called Pebble's new agreement with the ASRC subsidiary an "unfortunate" effort to misrepresent the views of Bristol Bay residents.
ASRC's "participation in the Pebble project has no bearing on and is not reflective of the attitudes and interests of the people who will be most affected by the proposed Pebble Mine," BBNC said in a statement released Tuesday.
"Our lives and livelihood are based on fishing," said Joseph Chythlook, BBNC chairman. "We will not allow our economy and culture to be displaced by foreign mining interests."
Pebble, owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Canada, has said it plans to pursue a smaller project than it previously considered, with broad input from supporters and critics alike. Opponents doubt Pebble's sincerity and vow the scaled-back concept will soon give way to a larger, more destructive footprint once mining starts.
Pebble said AES will discuss contracting opportunities with village corporations that have worked with Pebble in the past. It plans to meet this week with village corporations, including from Iliamna, Pedro Bay and Nondalton.
The opportunity is open to other village corporations from the Bristol Bay region, Heatwole said.
"If other regional village corporations want to be informed about what we're hoping to achieve, they can certainly contact us," Heatwole said.
Myrtle Anelon, a longtime board member with the village corporation from Iliamna, population 110, said Tuesday that she supports Pebble's effort to involve local corporations.
"Our young people don't have jobs. They don't have training. They need to have something," said Anelon, 77.
Myrtice Evalt, interim executive director with mine opponent Nunamta Aulukestai, said Pebble and ASRC need to stay away from Bristol Bay and its thriving fishing industry.
"Any mines in this region are not good for our people," she said.
ASRC Energy Services did not respond to questions Tuesday. But it issued a media statement saying the process would be collaborative, with the goal of establishing a "consensus approach" to Native contracting as the project moves forward.
"Local stakeholders need a meaningful seat at the discussion table to ensure they receive the maximum benefit possible," said ASRC Energy Services President Doug Smith.