Officially, Gov. Mike Dunleavy is neutral on the Pebble mine. But a letter he wrote to a potential investor in the controversial project calls his neutrality into question.
“It’s like a PR letter from Pebble,” mine opponent Norm Van Vactor said after reading a July 30 letter Dunleavy sent to the CEO of a Canadian company called Wheaton Precious Metals.
Alaska Public Media obtained the letter in response to a public records request.
In it, Dunleavy said he’d seen a letter Wheaton received from the Natural Resources Defense Council. The environmental group, along with Bristol Bay tribal leaders and commercial fishermen, pressed Wheaton not to invest in Pebble, which would be built at the headwaters of rivers that flow into the bay.
In his own letter to Wheaton Precious Metals, Dunleavy said the state has a keen interest in the project, as the land owner.
“I want to assure you the state will stand by those who invest in Alaska,” he wrote.
Once the appropriate permits are granted, the governor wrote, “I am equally committed to removing obstacles that would hinder immediate construction.”
Dunleavy invited the potential Pebble backer to call or meet him to discuss the company’s investment in Alaska.
Norm Van Vactor is president of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, which is staunchly opposed to Pebble. He zeroed in on a particular sentence near the bottom of Dunleavy’s letter:
“I understand your potential investment would be structured to financially support Pebble’s completion of the permitting process,” the governor wrote.
Van Vactor said that level of knowledge suggests Dunleavy is overly involved in Pebble’s quest for investors.
“It’s just like, holy smokes. Where does it stop?” Van Vactor said. “I mean, is he the governor of the Pebble Partnership or the governor of the state of Alaska, and should he be at all considering the concerns of the people of Bristol Bay?”
Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said he doesn’t know how Dunleavy learned of the NRDC letter to Wheaton.
“From time to time these things cross the governor’s eyes and desk,” Shuckerow said.
The governor’s point, Shuckerow said, wasn’t so much to support Pebble as to counter the tactics environmental groups use to discourage investment in a range of Alaska projects.
“For Outside organizations that make veiled threats at potential investors, the governor’s wanting to send the message that Alaska is open for business,” Shuckerow said.
Pebble Partnership didn’t respond to an inquiry about the governor’s letter Monday afternoon. The company is seeking a permit under the federal Clean Water Act. If it’s granted, Pebble would still have to obtain state permits and the approval of the Alaska Legislature.
Reporter Nathaniel Herz contributed to this story.