Lack of dialogue with Bristol Bay Native Corp. disappointing, says Pebble

Dec 15, 2017

Pebble believes BBNC and its shareholders could benefit immensely with in-region contracts and revenue sharing if the mine moves forward. BBNC says it's not interested in working on a project it has openly opposed since 2009.

Credit KDLG

A spokesman for Pebble Mine said this week that the company still intends to file a permit application in December. Per a settlement reached with EPA, the company actually has another two years to do so until the preemptive Clean Water Act Section 404(c) restrictions could be finalized.

Pebble enjoyed a lot of forward momentum in 2017, but counts being continuously rebuffed by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation as one of its disappointments.

“We’ve several times asked BBNC to listen to our new proposals, or tell us why they reject our proposals, and those requests have been denied," CEO Tom Collier said at the time their new plan was being rolled out this fall. "We think that’s unfortunate. We think dialogue and sharing information is really quite important.”

Things would be very different if the Pebble deposit was on Native corporation land, like Red Dog or Donlin. The land owner, whether BBNC or a village corporation, could kill the project outright or stand to benefit enormously through its development. Instead, Pebble is on state lands staked for mineral exploration, within the boundaries of the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

But Pebble "wants to be a good neighbor in the region," said Collier, and has crafted a plan to create a revenue sharing program to mimic what would occur if the mine was built on BBNC land.

“We’ve asked BBNC to sit down and talk to us about them serving as the vehicle for this revenue sharing, so that it would flow through to their stockholders, and they have not been interested in having that discussion," he said.

So Pebble will set up a separate corporation for that purpose, said Collier.

"Under our current thinking, half the shares being owned by the village corps that are closest to the project, and half the shares being owned by residents of the Bristol Bay region, and they would share in the profitability of this project as it goes forward."

The company estimates the village corporations will receive $500,000 annually, and resident stockholders will receive $500.

That is one point Collier is disappointed by BBNC's lack of interest. Another is an unwillingness to take the lead on the major contracts involved if the mine goes into construction. He believes BBNC is well-suited to tackle the proposed port and power plant, and to stretch excess electrical power to other Bristol Bay villages. Moreover, BBNC should help manage how other contracts are awarded, and mentor the smaller village corporations as they take on work. Instead, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation was awarded that contract in June.

Collier believes tens to more likely hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue would pass through BBNC through the life of a Pebble Mine, but this fall he could not convince the staff or board to give him a meeting to talk about it. And he was shocked when BBNC threatened to oust board member Kim Williams after she joined Pebble's Advisory Committee. After she backed down, she was ordered not to even attend one of the committee meetings.

"I think dialogue is important. I think it’s important for BBNC to know what we’re planning on doing, to hear it from us. And I think it’s important for us to hear exactly why BBNC objects to the proposal that we have out there, because we’re prepared to start modifying it, to respond, just as we’ve done in our new proposal from what we’ve heard before."

If BBNC will not reconsider, Collier said he would like to see a third-party facilitate dialogue or debate in Anchorage or the Bristol Bay region.

BBNC, however, says it has been engaged in discussion with Northern Dynasty for eight years now, and does not believe there is anything new to consider.

“There are times when they ask to sit down and meet with us on topics that, we believe, is not new information. We’re not going to waste our time to sit down and rehash the same positions over and over," BBNC president and CEO Jason Metrokin said this week. 

"BBNC has been openly opposed [to Pebble] since 2009, and that’s not going to change. If something else comes about with the project, new information, new investors, we’ll sit down with them and learn what’s new.”

That could happen next week. Metrokin said Pebble was adamant that in 2017 it would resolve its lawsuit with EPA, find a new partner, and file for permits. He acknowledged the company achieved its goal with EPA, but is skeptical they will make progress on the other two priorities, despite Pebble's public assurances.

“I’m not sure what to believe," he said. "We’re going to continue to monitor, we’re going to continue to stay involved, but we’re not going to build infrastructure for Pebble. We’re opposed to the project, we’ve been very clear about that for quite a number of years."

Pebble's promise of jobs and economic opportunity for the Bristol Bay region creates no guarantee that "BBNC is going to jump in and get involved," he said.

"We’re not going to build their port, we’re not going to build their roads, we’re not going to help to develop the infrastructure for the project if it’s a project that we oppose.”

BBNC was not happy that ASRC took work on Bristol Bay turf this summer, but Metrokin said any corporation that works with Pebble can deal with their own shareholders about why they choose to do so. That includes local village corporations, some of whom have felt pressured by BBNC not to take work with Pebble.

For BBNC, the answer will stay a thanks, but no thanks.

“I’m comfortable standing up in front of our shareholders, as I do often, and telling them why BBNC opposes this project. And largely, but not entirely, it’s because the vast majority of our shareholders also oppose this project. They’ve spoken loudly and clearly for many years about their concerns and the adverse impacts that this project represents," said Metrokin.

dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281