Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Friday that the state is appealing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to deny a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine.
In a statement from the governor’s office, Dunleavy called the denial a “dangerous precedent” that would harm Alaska’s future.
His Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said it has “ominous implications for our rights as a state to develop our resources for the benefit of all Alaskans.”
The Army Corps denied the permit after determining that the plan for the mine would not comply with the Clean Water Act, and that the project is not in the public interest.
Fishermen and tribes in Bristol Bay have been fighting the project for more than a decade.
If built, the open-pit gold and copper mine would be one of the largest in North America.
Dan Cheyette, Vice President for Lands and Resources at the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, said they “completely disagree” with the governor’s decision. He said the corporation has “always held” that Pebble is unlike any other resource development project.
“Because of its location, because of its size, because of the type of deposit that it is, and the fact that it is in the midst of one of the world’s greatest wild sockeye salmon fisheries, it can’t be judged against any other project,” he said.”
Cheyette said he believes the Army Corps will uphold its decision to deny the permit.
The United Tribes of Bristol Bay are strongly opposed to the project.
“Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans have been clear that we will not trade one of the world’s last robust salmon fisheries for a gold mine,” wrote Deputy Director Lindsay Layland in an emailed statement. “It’s outrageous that Gov. Dunleavy and his administration would go against the will of Alaskans to benefit a foreign mining company that has no value to our state, and shows once again how out of touch he is.”
Robin Samuelson is the chairman of the board of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. He has opposed Pebble for more than a decade and he’s not surprised by Dunleavy’s announcement.
“We’ve got two of our federal senators opposing the Pebble Mine, hundreds of thousands of people opposed to the Pebble Mine. And we’ve got a rogue governor that doesn’t care what Alaskans think,” he said. “We’ve always asked our congressional delegation, the state of Alaska to treat us fairly out here. And they always said they’re going to treat us fairly. But now, it just goes to show that the governor is stepping outside the bounds.”
Despite this most recent development, Samuelson said, he thinks Pebble is “on its way out.”
“I’m not against mining, but that mine is in the wrong place,” he said. “It’s in the spawning grounds — the most productive spawning grounds in the world. We have our gold, it’s called sockeye salmon.”
Sue Anelon, who works with the Iliamna Development Corporation, said she supports the governor’s decision. She said that the lack of jobs in Iliamna is forcing people to look for work.
“If we don’t do anything, we’re going to be stagnant,” she said. “We’re going to still depend on the government. I don’t want to move out of my hometown just to get a job, but people are moving, and I love this place and I’d rather be home.”
Anelon says people in her community commercial fish, and they also depend on a subsistence way of life, but that they need money even when fishing and hunting for food.
“If you’re going to go catch a moose, you have to buy your shells, you have to buy your gun, you have to buy your gas. You have to buy everything to keep your meat — your vacuum sealers and your bags,” she said. “So it takes money to put your food away.”
The Canadian-based parent company of the Pebble Limited Partnership is currently caught up in a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company mislead its shareholders about the viability of the project.