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ANCHORAGE - The Bristol Bay Native Corp. is opposing the development of the Pebble copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska.
The corporation's board voted Friday to oppose the mine, as well as offshore oil and gas leasing in the Bering Sea. The board cited the "unquantifiable impacts the project could have on the natural resources of the Bristol Bay region."
"Maintaining a neutral stance on the Pebble Mine project is no longer in the best interest of the corporation or to the values of cultural and economic sustainability to which we hold ourselves," said Bristol Bay board chairman Joseph Chythlook in a press release.
Bristol Bay is one of the 13 Alaska regional Native corporations Congress created in the 1970s. It owns a large amount of mineral rights throughout the Bristol Bay region and has more than 8,500 Eskimo, Aleut and Athabascan shareholders who live or have roots there.
Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the mining interests pursuing the development, called the vote disappointing. He represents the Pebble Partnership, composed of Canadian explorer Northern Dynasty Minerals and London mining giant Anglo American, which has not yet finalized a development plan for its project or applied for the permits needed to build a mine.
"We will continue to press forward with our work to conclude a pre-feasibility study and a responsible mine development plan for Pebble," he said. "It's important to stress that any mine development plan we bring forward will be based upon co-existing with the fishery in the Bristol Bay region."
Though the corporation is not directly involved in Bristol Bay's fishing industry, fish remain its highest priority, said chief executive Jason Metrokin.
"A large portion of our shareholders are Bristol Bay (fishing) permit holders," he said.
The Native corporation had maintained a neutral position on the Pebble project - located on state-owned land, not Native land - since 2006 but collected information about the project and gathered input from its shareholders, company officials said.
Bristol Bay's votes on mining and drilling carry weight because the corporation is the combined voice of thousands of Alaska Native shareholders who live in the region. Also, the company is one of the region's major landowners.
Metrokin, the chief executive, said it is not clear right now whether developers of Pebble would need to use the company's subsurface land. Such uses could include gravel to build roads necessary for moving equipment, fuel or other items. If asked, permission would be denied, Metrokin said.