The former head of an anti-Pebble group who lost her job after agreeing to serve on an advisory panel for the gold and copper project said she won't accept the company's $30,000 offer and will continue speaking out against the project.
Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai until Monday, also said on Friday that the smaller-mine scenario The Pebble Partnership now plans will not work.
"Even if you come in with a small mine, they will build it bigger and bigger and bigger," she said.
It will cause a lot of environmental damage, including harming fish and the families in the Bristol Bay region who depend on them, she said.
Nunamta Aulukestai, a group of Alaska Native village corporations and tribes from the region, said in a statement to the media on Thursday that The Pebble Partnership had lured away Williams with the promise of money.
Williams called that "ludicrous," in part because the $30,000 offer was much smaller than her salary at Nunamta. She's opposed the mine for more than a decade and isn't changing, she said.
She said John Shively, chairman of the project, sent a letter to her on March 31, asking if she would be interested in joining the company's advisory panel.
Shively would not comment on the letter on Friday, including to confirm that he had sent it. He also would not talk about the new direction of the project.
The company will talk at the appropriate time, he said.
According to a copy of the letter, provided to reporters by attorneys for Nunamta Aulukestai, Pebble plans this year to begin pursuing permits from federal and state agencies under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The letter says that The Pebble Partnership — owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Canada — expects to secure a new funding partner this year.
It will pursue a "significantly smaller" project, one that "incorporates more robust environmental protections and safeguards," it said.
The fortunes of the project are currently before U.S. District Judge Russel Holland after Pebble sued the Environmental Protection Agency in 2014, accusing it of trying to stop the project before it can be reviewed by permitting agencies. That year, Holland issued a preliminary injunction halting the EPA from taking action that could stop the mine.
The case has been on hold since January while the EPA and Pebble pursue settlement talks. The parties have asked for a delay until Thursday, and say they are close to finishing "a likely framework for settlement," according to court documents.
Pebble believes the project has a better chance of development following Donald Trump's election as president and his appointment of Scott Pruitt as EPA head.
The letter to Williams says Pebble will pursue a project that is "substantially more responsive to stakeholder priorities and concerns than design concepts proposed in the past."
It invites Williams to join the advisory panel it's forming. The letter says she would contribute immensely to the panel and the company's efforts "to design a project that safely co-exists" with clean water, healthy fisheries and traditional life in Southwest Alaska.
The letter says participants can provide feedback on any portion of the project, won't be bound by confidentiality agreements and can publicly oppose the project. The letter says Pebble is not bound to adopt a member's guidance, while the panel's work will be shared with Alaskans and project stakeholders.
The letter says four prominent members are serving as founding members but several other invitations are pending.
It says committed participants include Alaska Native leader Willie Hensley; Terrence "Rock" Salt, former principal deputy assistant of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Jim Maddy, former president of the League of Conservation Voters.
The three men could not be reached Friday.
The letter offers a $30,000 yearly honorarium but adds that Williams could reject that money. The company also offers to pay travel and other expenses. Members will attend two or three meetings yearly in Alaska, and participate in monthly teleconferences.
Williams said Friday that if the panel is ultimately formed, she won't take the $30,000, and said she told that to the Nunamta Aulukestai board. She said she has no hard feelings against the organization for its strong statement.
Williams said she's leaving Nunamta Aulukestai to save the organization money. She said it needs to protect the funding it has left to take on Pebble in this new fight.
Meanwhile, she will fight the project while serving on the panel.
"Thirteen years of working on this just doesn't go away overnight," she said.
Sharon Clark, spokeswoman with Nunamta Aulukestai, said the organization stands by its earlier statement.
"This is clearly a pro-Pebble effort. Putting a few dissenting voices on the board for the good of their PR doesn't change that," Clark said.