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ASRC subsidiary partners with Pebble

June 16th | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

A subsidiary of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation announced this week it was partnering with Pebble Limited Partnership to help the proposed copper and gold mine project work with Alaska Native village corporations on Native hire opportunities and other partnerships.

ASRC Energy Services Regulatory and Technical Services announced it was entering into a business relationship to help local stakeholders have a "meaningful seat at the discussion table to ensure they receive the maximum benefit possible," according to Doug Smith, president and CEO of the company.

"We look forward to working with (Pebble Limited Partnership), and with the Alaska Native village corporations with which Pebble has established relationships, to ensure that Native contracting, training and employment opportunities associated with Pebble are optimized at every stage of the project's development," Smith said in a release.

According to the release, the partnership's goal is to establish a consensus approach to Native contracting during the permitting, construction and operating phases of the proposed Pebble mine. Invitations have been extended to Alaska Native village corporations with landholdings near its project to participate in collaborative business development planning initiatives.

But the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, which represents a region it says remains overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed mine, said the move to partnership with a Native corporation that represents an area of Alaska 1,000 miles away from Bristol Bay, is another example of the mine company's continued effort to misrepresent the opinions of the people of the Bristol Bay Region.

"Kings recently arrived in Bristol Bay," said Joseph L. Chythlook, the chairman of the BBNC Board of Directors. "With the arrival of those fish, the people of the region anxiously await another commercial and subsistence fishing season. Our lives and livelihood are based on fishing. We will not allow our economy and culture to be displaced by foreign mining interests. We are and will always be 'fish first.'"

Plans for the proposed Pebble Mine were buoyed earlier this year when the partnership and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency negotiated an agreement that allowed the company to move forward with the project after years of legal battles. The settlement provides the Pebble Limited Partnership an opportunity to apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the EPA may move forward with its Clean Water Act process to specify limits on the disposal of certain material in connection with the potential Pebble Mine. To take advantage of this period of forbearance, Pebble would have to file its permit application within 30 months. In exchange, Pebble agreed to drop its lawsuits and requests for fees against the EPA and to file no new Freedom of Information Act requests during the pendency of the "forbearance" period.

In 2014, under the previous administration, the EPA's Region 10 completed a multi-year watershed assessment in Bristol Bay, and then issued a Clean Water Act Section 404(c) proposed determination, which described restrictions on large-scale mining in the watershed.

Section 404 is the part of the act that governs the permit evaluation process for actions that discharge dredged or fill material into a covered water.

While the settlement may have been a step forward for the project, it must still overcome financial woes, however. Northern Dynasty Ltd. is still the sole owner of the proposed mine after several major and minor investors backed out following sustained public pressure opposing the mine.

But the company moved quickly to set up advisory committees in Alaska to provide independent, external advice as the project advances, naming Alaska Native leaders and others with experience in government and environmental realms, to the newly formed Pebble Advisory Committee.

"In our view, this is the ideal time to expand our engagement with external parties to ensure the project we take into permitting, and the various environmental safeguards and partnership programs we build around that project, are as robust and responsive to stakeholder needs as they can be," said Pebble CEO Tom Collier in a statement.

Local opposition to the project continues as well, however, with many regional organizations vowing to continue the fight to oppose the large-scale mine, which they say will be developed at the expense of the Bristol Bay fishing industry, which provides jobs to thousands in the region each year.

"If President Trump and his administration truly support American jobs, today's settlement was a huge mistake. Bristol Bay's fishermen have been seeking Clean Water Act protections to protect 14,000 sustainable American jobs and an industry that provides $1.5 billion a year to the Nation's economy," said Kristina Andrew, project director for Sustaining Bristol Bay Fisheries, following the settlement announcement. "We remain steadfast in our dedication to protecting our jobs and livelihoods. Absolutely at no cost will we allow the world's last great sockeye salmon fishery to be jeopardized."

But Collier said as the project moves into its 2017 field season and works on its federal and state permitting, it is eager to renew its commitment to maximize contract and employment opportunities for local companies and people.

"We know very well the challenging economic circumstances that confront Alaska Native village corporations and their shareholders in southwest Alaska, and we are making investments now to ensure they will benefit to the greatest extent possible at each stage of the Pebble Project's development — during permitting, construction, operations and even closure," he said.

This is not the first time in recent years the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation has entered into a partnership of sorts with a controversial resource developer. In 2014, the corporation joined forces with six other North Slope village corporations to form the Arctic Inupiat Offshore, which partnered with Shell Oil to allow the LLC to acquire interest in Shell's Chukchi Sea offshore drilling lease activity.

 

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