By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU — Several groups critical of a proposed copper and gold mine near the headwaters of a major Alaska salmon fishery have refused a meeting invitation from the project’s developers and instead are planning a protest rally next week.
Alannah Hurley, with the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, called the invitation by the Pebble Limited Partnership a public relations stunt. She said her organization is not interested in having a discussion based on the presumption that a mine will be built.
“We have zero interest in wasting our time on that discussion because we do not support the development of the Pebble Mine,” Hurley said on Friday.
Rather than attending the meeting Monday in Anchorage, her group and others plan to hold a rally.
Nelli Williams, director of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program, said critics of the proposed mine have been clear in their position for years. “We’ve said it 100 times and our message isn’t changing and hasn’t changed,” she said.
Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, said a member of an advisory committee assembled by the partnership wanted an opportunity to speak with mine opponents, prompting the invitations.
He had not heard from anyone who was accepting the invitation to meet, he said.
“Clearly, some seem to prefer demonstrating to dialogue. I think that that’s an unfortunate outcome,” Heatwole said. “I think everyone is better served when we sit across the table from each other and hear each other out.”
Pebble isn’t trying to change the oppositions’ views, he said.
The Pebble deposit is in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. About half of the world’s sockeye salmon is produced by Bristol Bay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said.
A legal fight between the Pebble partnership and EPA ended earlier this year, with a settlement in which EPA pledged to initiate a process for withdrawing restrictions on development in the Bristol Bay region proposed during the Obama administration. The EPA is in the midst of a public comment period on the intended withdrawal of the proposed restrictions.
Critics say the Bristol Bay region is not the place for this kind of project. But others objected to what they worried would be a pre-emptive veto of the project by the EPA and argued that Pebble should be allowed to go through the permitting process, where project plans would be vetted.
Pebble hopes to move into the permitting phase for the project yet this year and to secure a long-term partner or investor in the project. The preference would be to have a partner in place before moving to permitting, Heatwole said.