ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - An Alaska Native group has finalized a deal with Pebble Mine officials, which would allow the controversial mine project to have a better chance to become a reality. Those opposed to the mine's construction warn that Alaskans are not in favor of the recent development.
Iliamna Natives Limited said in a news release issued Wednesday that it would provide transportation corridor access on INL lands to the Pebble Limited Partnership, in order to "support the operation and construction of the proposed Pebble mine."
Pebble Limited Partnership has worked for years to construct Pebble Mine, a gold and copper mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay region. The project stalled multiple times when those vocal in the region argued the mine would prove hazardous to major salmon populations.
Though the project is still under a public comment period, now set to run through July 1, the new development with Iliamna Natives Ltd. looks to advance the Pebble Project.
Another Alaska Native group, which opposes the mine, said they respect Iliamna Natives' decision to support Pebble,however they also said it doesn't hamper their effort to stop it.
Daniel Cheyette with Bristol Bay Native Corporation, representing a region which would be most immediately impacted by the mine, said they believe this is not the best way for Iliamna to look out for its people.
"We respect INL’s right to reach its own conclusions regarding Pebble and PLP’s access to their lands," Cheyette said, but added, "BBNC was disappointed to learn of INL’s right-of-way agreement with the Pebble Limited Partnership. We believe there are better ways for INL to advance the long-term economic, cultural and social interests of its shareholders and the community of Iliamna."
INL's president said it's not a choice they made lightly, and said that the construction of Pebble Mine will help its people prosper.
“We see Pebble as the avenue to secure opportunities to achieve our own destiny to prosper,” said INL President Lorene Anelon. “We know we are the true caretakers of our lands and of the salmon, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Others opposed to the mine aren't convinced that its construction is responsible, and claim the majority of Alaskans do not want the mine to be built.
"When the Army Corps held hearings throughout Bristol Bay communities in April about 80% of public testimony was in opposition to the mine," said Carly Wier, Executive Director of the Cook Inletkeeper. "It is not surprising that two corporations found common interests - but the fact is, Alaskans don't want toxic industrial development at the headwaters of the worlds last and largest wild sockeye salmon fishery."
Wier also said that Pebble's construction would not only threaten subsistence fishermen, but big fishing, and, in effect, Alaska jobs.
"The reality is, Pebble Mine is a job-killer," said Wier. "We already have strong, sustainable economies that will be destroyed in Pebble gets its way. We know that 14,000 American jobs tied to the commercial fishery are threatened."
The Army Corps of Engineers recently voted to extend, from 90 to 120 days, the comment period for a draft environmental review of the proposed Pebble Mine.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski said more time was necessary, citing draft's length and complexity and need to ensure Alaskans can provide "meaningful feedback" on it.
While the announcement made by Iliamna will not change the public comment period, it would make the project move along more quickly, pending the review from ACE.
The PLP-INL deal would fast track Pebble developing infrastructure on Iliamna lands, including roads, pipelines, a ferry landing site and lay down yards, officials said Wednesday.
“We will always respect our culture and traditional values, but we also know our shareholders need jobs and INL needs economic opportunities for our businesses,” Anelon said of the deal.
Meanwhile, Bristol Bay Native Corp. says that isn't how they see it.
"INL’s decision and agreement with PLP does not in any way change BBNC’s position on Pebble. BBNC remains focused on the long-term interests of Bristol Bay and our shareholders and are, as we have been, opposed to the project," Cheyette said.