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In downtown Anchorage, activists protest meeting to discuss Pebble mine prospect

More than 100 protesters hoisted anti-Pebble signs in steady rain outside the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage on Monday, denouncing what some called a secret meeting by the developer of the proposed copper and gold prospect.

Except, as it turned out, the meeting wasn't at the hotel.

Earlier this week, Pebble Limited Partnership moved the meeting of its new six-person advisory committee — created in part to build community ties in the Bristol Bay region — somewhere else.

Chistian Alexie, 4, attends a rally outside the Hotel Captain Cook on Monday. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

Where, Pebble refused to say for much of Monday, despite repeated questions.

"You all scared them away," said Alannah Hurley, executive director of mine opponent United Tribes of Bristol Bay, holding a microphone near a tarp-covered speaker. "They are literally hiding from Alaskans on the discussion of Pebble mine."

Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesperson, said on Monday the private meeting was moved because the Captain Cook's 10th floor conference room, where the meeting was planned, is under construction. The roof is being repaired, he said.

A hotel official said the cancellation came Tuesday of last week. That was a day before Pebble opponents announced their rally.

Pebble Mine opponents rally outside the Hotel Captain Cook. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

At 5:54 p.m., after the meeting and the rally had ended, Heatwole said in an email that the meeting was held at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown Hotel. It was the committee's first in-person meeting.

Pebble has said the advisory committee is designed in part to collect local ideas — even opposing ones — as developers move to unveil a smaller project than has previously been planned in years' past.

Mine detractors, noting the company offered a $30,000 a year honorarium for joining the group, say it's part of an effort to co-opt Bristol Bay residents in a region that's generally opposed to the project.

The proposed development was in a holding pattern until May, when Pebble's developers and the Environmental Protection Agency settled a lawsuit the company brought against the agency. The EPA, under the Trump administration, is trying to roll back its 2014 action that would have blocked the mine's development.

The advisory committee members include Alaska Native leader Willie Hensley and two residents from the Bristol Bay region: Alexanna Salmon from Igiugig, and Dillingham resident William Johnson, father of mine opponent Kimberly Williams, who stepped down from the committee in June.

Non-Alaska members are Terrence "Rock" Salt, former principal deputy assistant of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Jim Maddy, former president of the League of Conservation Voters; and retired Air Force Gen. Joe Ralston, former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bill Clinton.

More people may join the group, Heatwole said.

Heatwole said Pebble hoped the committee could hear from project opponents at the meeting, which began Sunday. Pebble, owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Canada, had invited UTBB, Trout Unlimited, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., and other groups, to participate, he said.

In a joint statement, UTBB, Trout Unlimited and BBEDC said they declined the invitation, and won't "participate in a discussion that presumes a mine is being built."

At the rally, some activists had flown in from Bristol Bay, where commercial fishermen this summer had a huge season, hauling in more than 37 million sockeye. Opponents say the Pebble prospect, proposed for construction in some of the bay's headwaters, would destroy such opportunities, leaving toxic lakes and streams that devastate spawning grounds.

Can a mine there be built safely, asked Tom Tilden, standing atop a step ladder in the rain. "Hell no!" he shouted, getting an echo from the crowd.

"The best the advisory committee can do is go home," said Tilden, chief of the Dillingham-based Curyung tribe.

The meeting of the advisory committee began Sunday, said Heatwole. It continues on Tuesday with a trip to the Pebble deposit.

“They head to Iliamna tomorrow and part of the agenda includes a lunch with some people from the community,” Heatwole said.

He said the committee heard from officials about environmental studies in the region and received an overview of the smaller mine plan. The committee is also working on initiatives to improve Pebble's relationships in the region.

Also under discussion are public meetings.

"We do intend to have some open forums in the future as they have expressed an interest in hearing from as many people as they can," Heatwole said.

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