Johnson, Salmon join Pebble advisory committee
An advisory committee for the Pebble Limited Partnership held its first in-person meeting last week in Anchorage. Two of the six committee members are from Bristol Bay — AlexAnna Salmon from Igiugig and William Johnson from Dillingham. The other four members represent state and national interests.
William Johnson is a longtime commercial fisherman who has held a variety of positions in the Bristol Bay Native Association and Bristol Bay Native Corporation. In May, Johnson's daughter, Kim Williams, took a position on the advisory committee. However, she resigned from the committee in June after significant local opposition and pressure from the Bristol Bay Native Corporation board.
Johnson has deep-seated concerns about the proposed Pebble Mine. Those concerns led him to accept the invitation to be a part of the advisory committee.
"This has the potential to be very good for the region or very bad, and I want to know what is very bad, and I want to know what is very good so I can weigh the project on its own merits," said Johnson.
His primary apprehensions relate to maintaining the water quality near the mine site and downstream. At the meeting, Johnson requested that the Pebble project hire a water consulting firm to test drill holes and to submit an independent report. He was told that his suggestion would be taken under advisement.
The stated goal of the committee meeting was to familiarize committee members with the range of stakeholder and environmental issues the Pebble project poses. They did that through discussions, presentations and a visit to the site of the proposed mine site near Iliamna Lake. Johnson went into the meeting without an official stance for or against the Pebble project. After one meeting, he still both had concerns and an open mind.
"If there's something that's going to impact the Bristol Bay region or could benefit the Bristol Bay region, the people have to participate," said Johnson.
That is not the view that area groups opposed to the mine took when they were invited to take part in the meeting. One of the topics on the agenda was opposition to the mine, and to that end a number of area organizations opposed to Pebble mine were invited to present their positions. Among those groups were the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Trout Unlimited, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. None participated. Instead, they held a rally, protesting the proposed mine. Rally leaders said it would be counterproductive for groups opposed to the mine to participate in the meeting.
"It's a way of the mining company to give itself credibility in regards to it working with the people. The sad thing about all that is they get to hand pick whoever they want to sit on that advisory council," said Thomas Tilden, a commercial fisherman and who sits on the Cuyung Tribal Council and the board of Nunamta Aulukestai.
Despite the rainy weather, well over 100 people took to the streets with signs and umbrellas to protest. Tilden said that he hopes that rallies like these discourage potential financial backers from supporting the Pebble project.
Pebble aims to file for a permit in December. The advisory committee will likely meet again before the end of the year. They are discussing the possibility of touring an active mine in British Columbia.