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Bethel legislator to take mining job

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2008

The legislative ethics committee cleared Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, to take a new job with the mining industry.

Approval from the committee isn't formally required, but Nelson said she chose to ask for an advisory opinion to head off any possible questions about a conflict of interest in the sometimes controversial industry.

"Mines aren't universally embraced by everyone. We are under a lot more scrutiny right now," Nelson said.

There are no mining issues currently before the Legislature, and Nelson said she does not expect any in her remaining months as a legislator.

The 10-year legislative veteran earlier this year announced she was not running for re-election.

Nelson will be working for the Donlin Creek Gold Mine, a joint venture of NovaGold Resources Inc. and Barrick Gold Corp. It is in the exploratory stage and "on the cusp" of seeking permits, she said. Nelson's husband, Joe, works at University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.

Nelson will be commuting from her home in Juneau as manager of community development and sustainability. The mine is located in the Bethel region, but not in Nelson's current House district, she said.

The issue of legislators working for companies with issues before the Legislature has been a point of contention, but the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics noted that outside employment is to be expected in Alaska.

"A part-time citizen Legislature implies that legislators are expected and permitted to earn outside income," the ruling said.

Nelson said she didn't feel the job presented a conflict, but asked for the ruling because she felt someone might.

"I wanted to head off at the pass any complaints that somehow my working there could be a conflict of interest," she said.

Nelson said her job would not involve dealing with the Legislature or state government at all.

Nelson will spend one week per month in the region and live in Juneau the remainder of the time, she said.

"It works well for my family" she said, and she had been worried about being homesick for the Lower Kuskokwim area.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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