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Business/Economy

Dunleavy encourages Canadian company weighing investment in Pebble mine

Gov. Mike Dunleavy told the head of a Canadian mineral company that he would support his decision to invest in the Pebble copper and gold project, after the company received a letter from anti-Pebble groups arguing against the investment, according to a letter from the governor.

Dunleavy, who has taken a neutral stance on the project, told Randy Smallwood, president of Wheaton Precious Metals Corp., that the state will stand by the company’s possible investment in Pebble, according to the July 30 letter from the governor obtained through a public records request.

“I understand your potential investment would be structured to financially support Pebble’s completion of the permitting process,” Dunleavy said in the letter. “Every permittee deserves that opportunity, and it is my mission to assure that any project attempting to stake claim in Alaska is afforded this basic right.”

The state is “encouraged and supportive of your decision to invest in Alaska,” Dunleavy said.

The letter is worrisome in part because Dunleavy has not taken a position on whether the Pebble mine should be built, said Lindsey Bloom, program director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, one of the groups that signed a July 24 letter discouraging Wheaton’s investment.

“Having a governor be neutral on a project, but encouraging investment, is very concerning,” she said.

An investment from Wheaton could be important to Pebble Limited Partnership, the mine’s developer that has struggled to keep partners amid strong opposition to the project in Southwest Alaska.

Pebble Limited has applied with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a key permit to build the project that opponents say threatens the valuable Bristol Bay salmon fishery. The permit could be issued next year.

Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s spokesman, said on Tuesday that the governor has to “push back” when groups attempt to stifle development in Alaska. The governor wants to send an “open for business” message to potential investors, and believes that Pebble and other companies deserve to undergo a fair, transparent review by regulators.

“As the governor has said, if it can’t be done in a safe, responsible manner, it won’t be permitted,” Shuckerow said of Pebble.

Wheaton, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, generated more than $475 million in operating cash flow last year. Its agreements to buy precious metals before they are produced support mine development.

Simona Antolak, communications director for Wheaton, declined to discuss the letters or any possible investment by Wheaton.

“We don’t comment on any opportunities that are out there,” she said.

Mike Heatwole, a Pebble spokesman, also declined to discuss any possible investments or partners.

“We continue to have productive discussions with a range of companies about the project and when we have something formal to announce we will do so," he said.

Several anti-Pebble groups sent the letter to Smallwood saying investment in Pebble comes with significant risks, including the “unrelenting and overwhelming consensus of opposition” to the project. Anglo American and Rio Tinto are among the companies that have left the project, the letter said.

Dunleavy told Smallwood he had read the letter from Pebble opponents “threatening you not to invest in the Pebble project."

Dunleavy said in his letter he supports fair and efficient permitting in Alaska, without interference from project opponents.

“I am committed to making that happen, and once appropriate permits are granted, I am equally committed to removing obstacles that would hinder immediate construction,” he wrote.

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