Pro-Pebble group aims to counter mine foes

Pro-Pebble group aims to counter mine foes

A group of influential Alaskans has formed a nonprofit group to counter what they called misinformation being disseminated in television and newspaper advertisements by groups opposing Pebble, a possible mine on the Alaska Peninsula southwest of Anchorage.

The move is sure to ramp up the public relations war between those opposing and those supporting the mine.

The new ”Truth About Pebble” organization was launched Jan. 18 during a presentation by its founders to the Resource Development Council in Anchorage. Dick Cattanach, executive director of the Associated General Contractors, chairs the group. Former House Speaker Gail Phillips is vice-chair.

The board includes Myrtle Anelon and Lisa Reimers, two leaders from Iliamna, the community nearest to the mine, as well as Anchorage Assemblyman Dan Sullivan, Anchorage businesswomen Mary Shields and Sharon Anderson, Kenai businessman Bob Favretto, geologist Chuck Hawley, and others.

Cattanach said he has long been distressed by what the groups feels are distortions by national environmental groups on such issues as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

”We always said, ã”Alaskans would never do this,’ but we were wrong. We are now doing this to ourselves, and it isn’t right. It has got to stop,” he told the RDC.

Cattanach said the new group would seek to bring out all the facts about the project.

”We believe the state and federal permitting process should be allowed to work,” he said. ”If the project survives the permitting process, it could provide tremendous economic opportunities in a economically distressed region, where there are now few opportunities.”

Phillips said Pebble opposition groups are being unfair in their attempts to inhibit the permitting process. Alaskans have developed strict laws that will protect the environment and allow resource industries to operate, she said.

”We now have some of the most environmentally safe projects in the world, and our permitting system is now used as a model by other states and nations,” she said.

Phillips said that if a group is allowed to ”bully” and intimidate the process before project applications are even submitted, it will damage the state’s reputation as a place to do business. ”What will happen if investors cannot be assured of a fair process?”

”The Pebble project is still in its definition stage,” Cattanach said. ”Even Northern Dynasty, the developer, is unsure just what the project will look like. So everything that you read in the advertising against the project is designed just to get your dander up.”

The new organization met its first challenges at the RDC meeting. Patrick Flatley, outreach coordinator for the Bristol Bay Alliance, a group opposing Pebble, challenged Cattanach to cite examples of mistruths in advertising sponsored by the Alliance. ”Our organization is about facts based on science,” he said.

Cattanach replied that television spots sponsored by the Alliance showing a huge open-pit mine built at Pebble is a distortion because the mining company hasn’t decided how it will develop the mine. Other ads claiming huge dams will be built are also misleading, because Northern Dynasty has yet to decide how it will build tailings impoundment structures.

The advertising was sponsored by the Renewable Resources Coalition, another group opposing Pebble.

Hawley said the claims made by the group about use of cyanide at the mine were also untrue.

”This is a scare tactic,” Hawley said at the RDC meeting. ”The bulk of Pebble’s ore will be processed using a floatation method (a mechanical process). It is possible that a small amount of ore, perhaps 5 percent, might be further processed using cyanide, but this hasn’t been decided yet. The cyanide would all be in a closed-circuit process, though.”

Hawley also said he was offended by the opposition groups’ complaints about Northern Dynasty being a ”Canadian” mining company. The firm is based in Canada, as are most major mining companies doing business in Alaska, including Teck Cominco and Barrick Gold, among others. But that’s because Canada’s stock exchanges are better set up to raise higher-risk equity funds for mineral exploration than are exchanges in the U.S.

Mel Brown, a director of Bristol Bay Native Corp. and a retired senior production manager for BP, said he objected to some opponents of the Pebble Mine being described as ”bullies.”

”We’re a diverse group. We’re entitled to the facts about this project. Don’t paint us all with one brush,” Brown said.

Board member Reimers, who heads Iliamna Natives Ltd., said she supports Northern Dynasty being allowed to take its project through the permitting stage.

Iliamna is 18 miles away from the proposed mine, the nearest village to the project.

”Our local economy was dying before Northern Dynasty came along. We were depending on fishing and state grants. We had tried tourism, but we can’t afford airplanes that cost half a million dollars or chefs to take care of clients,” she said, referring to the high-end sportsfishing lodge owners who are helping finance the Pebble opposition. ”We tried to attract a middle group for day trips, but that didn’t work either.”

Things have been better since Northern Dynasty began its exploration and hired people in the region, she said.

”We can pay our fuel bills and buy $5 per gallon gas. We can do things we couldn’t do before,” she said. ”Our leadership has decided that Northern Dynasty should be allowed to continue its studies so we can make an informed decision.”


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