The proposed Pebble Mine isn’t at the permit stage yet, but it continues to make news.
This week, anti-mine groups released a letter signed by more than 300 scientists opposing the project, and the Pebble Partnership has announced a shuffle at the top.
Attorney Tom Collier will become CEO, taking over from John Shively, who will stay on as chairman of the board. Meanwhile, Shively is taking aim at a recent anti-Pebble TV spot.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich announced his opposition to the mine on Jan. 19. Barely two days later this ad was airing.
“Narrator: Sen. Begich is working to protect Alaskan families and the 14,000 jobs that depend on Bristol Bay. MF: Sen. Begich stood with Alaskans and opposed this mine. Thank You Sen. Begich.”
That last voice was Kodiak fisherman Mike Friccero, wearing a brown jacket, standing shoreside in a slight breeze. Shively recognized him from another anti-Pebble ad that appeared last fall.
“It was the same guy, same clothes, the same location, no snow,” Shively said. “The piece that appeared in the ad after the senator made his decision was clearly filmed back in October or September.”
Shively says it looks to him like Begich made up his mind long before he announced it, but he acknowledges the real issue for those like him, who want to develop Pebble, is that Begich sided against the mine, and before the Pebble Partnership has even applied for permits.
“That’s my big problem. And you know, did he telegraph, or did one of his staff telegraph that to our opposition? It certainly appears that way,” Shively said.
Begich says there were no secret signals. He says the ad sponsors must’ve drawn their own inference from what he’d been saying publicly for months.
“I’ve always said at the end of the day, I’ll look at the science, and that will drive a significant portion of my decision of where I’ll be on this. Sounds like they obviously believed in the science and took a risk,” he said.
Begich says he doesn’t know how many alternate versions the ad sponsors made. He says for all he knows, they shot a version un-thanking him, in case he came down on the other side.
Maybe it’s like the old Saturday Night Live skit where Tom Brokaw has to pre-record news of all the ways ex-president Ford might die while the anchorman is on vacation – struck by commuter plane, crack overdose, mauled by circus lion.
– Fine. What’s next?
– The Double story.
– OK. “A fireball destroyed France today, and Gerald Ford is dead.” Now what are the odds of that! C’mon!
The sponsor of the ad thanking Begich, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. But Tim Bristol, of Trout Unlimited, a partner group also opposed to the mine, says there’s no cause for suspicion here.
“We were always hopeful that the senator would, but we had no idea, so you have people mobilized to shoot the video so you go ahead and you plan for a series of contingencies,” Bristol said.
Bristol doesn’t know how many contingencies the video-taping covered, but he says nobody making an anti-Pebble ad last fall would’ve needed a tip-off or a wild imagination to pre-shoot a thank-you to Begich.
The rest of Alaska’s congressional delegation – and the Republicans who hope to replace Begich – have blasted the EPA for choosing to conduct a study of the watershed, saying it amounted to a pre-emptive veto of the mine.
Begich early last year pressed for the study to continue. The study, like a 2012 draft, says a large gold and copper mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay could harm the bay’s rich salmon runs. Pebble executives say the study is flawed.
The Kodiak fisherman thanking Begich in the ad, Mike Friccero, says he understood his gratitude was speculative.
“The way I understand it, they made several thank-yous to several politicians, and they unleashed Mark’s because he actually expressed an opinion,” he said.
Friccero says he’s expecting several more ads to appear based on the video shot that day last fall.