ANPA meeting provides forum for Pebble questions

For the first time since news broke that major Pebble investor Anglo American had stepped away from the development project, members of the public had the opportunity last week to hear from Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO John Shively and ask questions about the future of the project.

Shively was one of four panelists who participated in “Pebble: A Conversation Worth Having.” More than 70 people attended the event, hosted by the Alaska Native Professional Association at Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall Theatre on Wednesday. Additional participants included Bristol Bay Native Corporation Vice President of Land and Regional Operations Tiel Smith, Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett, and Nunamta Aulukestai Executive Director Kimberly Williams.

Panelists each answered five questions posed by ANPA. For detail on those questions and answers, see our Five Questions sidebar. Afterward, several attendees and online guests were invited to ask their own questions; topics ranged from PLP’s recent layoff announcement to BBNC’s ad campaign. Following, by topic, are some of the notable updates that came from the event:

PLP downsizing. In anticipation of losing Anglo American’s funding, PLP has limited spending, laying off personnel in both the Bristol Bay region and in the Anchorage office, as well as suspended contracts, pending further review. Fewer than ten employees will staff the Anchorage office, said Shively. The company will be setting priorities in November, he said, and will continue to do what it can to strengthen a permit application, educate the public, and finalize a description of the project plan.

Public input/conversations. ANPA Board Chair Angela Gonzales told Pebble Watch that the organization chose to focus on Pebble for this meeting because it wanted to provide an opportunity for members to learn more. Attendee Christine Klein said it was “positive and encouraging to see a professional dialogue.” Panelist Kimberly Williams noted that “generational conversations” like this have been ongoing in the region over the years, and recalled her father talking about the Pebble project when it was still a Teck Cominco exploration.

‘Canary in the coal mine.’ One participant brought up the history of using canaries in coal mines as advance warning systems for dangerous conditions. Another said it would take five to seven years of returns before the impact of mine operations on salmon would be understood. To both of these questions, Shively responded that PLP plans on using water quality data and studies on macro-invertebrates as indicators of potential problems. A lower abundance of sensitive macro-invertebrates would allow real-time monitoring, he said, indicating water quality problems that may impact fish without having to wait for years of returns.

Where was EPA? The EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment was mentioned several times. So where was the agency? Although invited, EPA had declined. According to ANPA representatives, EPA explained that its panelist would have had to defer all questions until the Watershed Assessment is finalized. (The final assessment is anticipated to be complete at the end of this month.) A place that’s always been.There were some references to BBNC’s ubiquitous ad campaign about Bristol Bay being, “A place that’s always been.” Smith noted that BBNC is now the second-largest corporation in Alaska, with more than 40 subsidiaries. He described the campaign as a way to explain “who we are and where we are from.”

A little levity. Panelists were plagued throughout the event by a testy microphone, which popped vigorously as it was passed around. The technical difficulty offered a chance for some lighter moments, as when Shively joked “I think it’s God throwing lightning bolts at me.” Another humorous moment came after BBNC’s panelist was asked whether BBNC might consider investing in Pebble. Shively threw a friendly arm around Smith’s shoulder, indicating that this would be welcome.

Shively’s baseline data promise. If the proposed project does not go through, said Shively, PLP will release the environmental baseline data it collected to the public. “If the project were shut down tomorrow, all that information would be made public,” Shively said. “We’re proud of the data. We think it stands up.” The data was collected in anticipation of permitting.