FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks legislator is asking the state's attorney general to investigate allegations of bribery by the developer of the hotly debated Pebble mine project in western Alaska.
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Rep. Jay Ramras, a Republican, sent a letter to Attorney General Talis Colberg containing what he said is information from Dillingham area residents that Northern Dynasty Mines Inc. has paid local officials to support the project.
"In conversation after conversation, I heard disturbing stories of money and influence being inappropriately plied to influence this important policy decision," Ramras wrote.
Ramras said the company paid for villagers from the region to fly to Anchorage for a meeting on the project, paid for their hotel rooms and gave them $600 apiece in cash.
He also said local elected officials and directors of Native corporations received payments from the company.
Ramras asked the attorney general to investigate the allegations during upcoming legislative hearings in the region.
Northern Dynasty spokesman Sean Magee told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that the allegations are "baseless" and said money for the trips and meetings are all above-board.
Magee said Northern Dynasty has paid dozens of community leaders to attend educational meetings in Anchorage and generally compensates them $200 per day for their time away from home and work.
"All this is fully disclosed," he said. "This is not money that is passing under the table."
Northern Dynasty and its subcontractors have also employed elected officials for work related to the project, such as site services or transportation services, he said.
Positions in local government are not full-time, and many of the officials have found additional work with Northern Dynasty.
Northern Dynasty employed more than 100 people from the Bristol Bay area last year and spent more than $4 million on contracts with local companies. The company employs four "community associates" to share information about the mine to locals, he said.
"We won't apologize for those things," he said.
The Alaska Native corporation in Iliamna has expressed frustration with Ramras.
"We are personally offended by the accusations being made by a legislator from urban Alaska," Lisa Reimers, general manager of Iliamna Development Corp., said in a statement.
Ramras said he considered himself a conduit for rural Alaskans who are reluctant to come forward publicly with complaints against the company.
He has long opposed development of the mine and said he believes it would pose a hazard to subsistence fisheries. The open-pit mine would be the largest in North America and would be positioned near the headwaters of rivers that are crucial to millions of spawning salmon each year.
Ramras is co-sponsoring a bill that would raise significant hurdles for Northern Dynasty by making it illegal to disturb certain salmon streams in the Bristol Bay region.
Ramras is friends with Bob Gillam, who owns a lodge near Pebble and has actively fought the project. Ramras said his position on Pebble is not affected by his friendship with Gillam.
"I don't dance to his tune," he said.
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