As Pebble Partnership plugs away at obtaining permits, opponents demand reconsideration

Leadership change does little in the grand scheme of things, according to several anti-development groups
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 1:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Pebble Partnership is on the hunt for a new chief executive officer after now-former CEO Tom Collier resigned from his post following the leak of contentious videos over the weekend, but while changes are underway there, opponents of Pebble Mine said a switch in leadership does little to alleviate problems with the project and the company.

“Tom Collier’s resignation is straight out of the ‘pick a fall-guy’ playbook all companies use when caught in illegal or unethical activity,” said Katherine Carscallen, of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “Simply removing Collier from leadership cannot be allowed to distract from the reality that the entire Pebble permitting process has been tainted under his leadership.”

Several other anti-Pebble companies also spoke out about Collier’s resignation on Wednesday.

“Deception, dishonesty, greed and hubris are in the DNA of this company and at the heart of its existence,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol in a prepared statement Wednesday. “[...] Tom Collier was not the source of this corruption — he is indicative of it.”

Rachel James, the Bristol Bay Campaign Coordinator for Salmon State, said Pebble and its proposed mine “need to be stopped once and for all.”

“This is a problem that won’t go away,” she said. “It’s not like wiping the slate clean. The whole thing is corrupt. So just because one person is gone, it doesn’t mean things are changing.”

While opponents of the mine contemplated their next steps, Pebble had already asked a new CEO to step in. John Shively, who previously served as CEO for the Pebble Partnership, was on his way to Alaska Wednesday to serve as interim CEO after Collier stepped down that afternoon.

“Clearly, the last few days were problematic,” said Pebble Partnership Spokesperson Mike Heatwole Wednesday evening. “There were some steps that needed to be taken, and I think the release and the actions today speak for themselves.”

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., Pebble’s parent company, announced Collier’s resignation in an emailed statement Wednesday. In that prepared release, Northern Dynasty Minerals President and CEO Ronald Thiessen said in part that, "The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed. On behalf of the Company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

Both Collier and Thiessen could be seen and heard in the videos, dubbed "The Pebble Tapes,” boasting to two individuals who claimed they were big-time overseas investors about their abilities to make the mine happen and to expand it immensely in the future.

The discussions also included their alleged connections to state leadership, specifically Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. The offices of Dunleavy and Sullivan have since refuted several claims made in the videos, such as Dunleavy being “out here playing politics,” and Sullivan having close ties to Pebble leadership; Murkowski’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment about accusations that she secretly supports the mine.

Still, for Pebble, the permit process remains ongoing, as does the search for a new CEO and the quest to rebuild any trust people had in the development plans.

“Today’s focus is on trying to restore some confidence and trust in the project,” Heatwole said, “that has clearly been challenged as a result of what’s happened this week. We’re gonna move forward, step by step, take it day by day and continue to work to earn back the respect and reputation and trust in this project. It remains an important project for the future of Alaska."

The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July, but Pebble has not yet received a record of decision. Heatwole said documents detailing plans for mitigating impacts to the wetland areas around the mine site were still being prepared as of Wednesday and will be submitted to the USACE in the next several weeks.

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