Williams out at Nunamta Aulukestai, board seething over intended new role with Pebble

May 4, 2017

Kim Williams, long the executive director of one of Pebble's staunchest opponents, let go after Nunamta's board said she signed on to an advisory role with Pebble. Williams and Pebble yet to confirm. "My opinion on the project has not changed," Williams said.

Kim Williams has long been an advocate of protecting Bristol Bay's watershed against large-scale copper and gold mining. The board of Nunamta Aulukestai claims she was ousted as director after signing to an advisory committee with Pebble.
Credit KDLG

KDLG: Nunamta Aulukestai, "Caretakers of the Land," has ended its relationship with longtime executive director Kimberly Williams. The board of directors took swift action after they say Williams accepted a role on an advisory committee with the Pebble Limited Partnership.

Neither Williams nor Pebble has confirmed that arrangement, though neither has denied it either.

Nunamta Aulukestai is a a non-profit association of village corporations and tribal councils in the Bristol Bay region.

Several board members for Nunamta and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, on which Williams serves, were seething this week with the news. Robin Samuelsen, who serves on both boards and is related to Williams, was one who was upset but declined to comment on the record Thursday.

Nunamta board treasurer Sharon Clark was tapped to speak on behalf of the organization.

“Kim’s [last] official day was on May 1. Our board has met, and our position is, and has always been, no mine in Bristol Bay. And we’re very strong in that opposition," said Clark.

Reached by phone earlier this week, Williams said she had intended to resign because some grant funding that helped cover her salary had expired.

On Thursday, when Nunamta made its announcement, she spoke highly of the organization and its work.

"What I can say is that it has been an honor and a privilege to work for them. I thought I brought a lot of value and strategy to our work and conversations," she said.

Williams was one of the first to organize a public opposition to the Pebble Mine, starting she says now 13 years ago.

"My opinion on the project has not changed," she said.

Pebble has yet to confirm the existence of the advisory committee, nor whether Williams has been recruited to join. However, CEO Tom Collier reiterated Thursday his oft-stated plan to form such a committee to give guidance as the project goes forward.

“What do we need to do? Should we really talk about delivering electricity to the region, what can we do with the fishing community, what can we do in terms of revenue sharing, with employment, contracting commitments in the region, all of that," said Collier. "We want to pull together some folks from Alaska, and from the rest of the country, that have been maybe skeptical about the project, maybe have been adversaries, some that have maybe been supportive, but a fair group, that can advise me as we move forward."

He said there may be more to talk about on that matter in a week or two.

Thursday also marked the end of a court imposed stay on a lawsuit brought by Pebble against EPA. Both sides asked for another week to continue working towards a resolution. Under the Obama administration, the EPA proposed preemptive Clean Water Act restrictions that would effectively block the mine’s development. Pebble filed several lawsuits, including one alleging EPA colluded with Pebble opponents to form its watershed assessment and decision. A judge put an injunction on EPA's work until that case is resolved.

Collier said he is optimistic that Pebble and EPA will come to an agreement outside of court within the week.

"All the resolution allows us to do is to go into permitting," he said. "We’ll prepare a permit application and file it, and everyone will have an opportunity to look at the project we’re proposing. Which, by the way, I think will be dramatically different from what most people think we have been talking about proposing in the past.”

Collier said he is pushing his team to prepare to file a permit application this year, adding that he will begin publicly discussing the proposed mine plan within "a few weeks."

He added that the Trump EPA has been more agreeable to Pebble's argument that the agency should wait to see a full Environmental Impact Statement before ruling on the mine's development. Calls and emails to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt this week have gone unreturned.

While these developments have not gone in their favor, Pebble’s opposition is not backing down from its long fight to prevent a copper and gold mine from being developed in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. Nunamata Aulukestai, which has sued Pebble in the past and helped encourage the EPA’s involvement in the region, announced Thursday it is recruiting for a new executive director.

"I can't speak to Kim's decision," Sharon Clark said Thursday. "But I can speak from the board's perspective. We know that fishing and mining cannot co-exist in our area."

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281.