Dunleavy sends letter encouraging potential Pebble investor

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks with Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Anchorage, in the 2nd floor hallway of the Capitol in Juneau on March 7, 2019. He had just left the House Speaker’s office.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy in the second floor hallway of the Capitol in Juneau on March 7, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

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.

Alaska Public Media obtained the July 30 letter Dunleavy sent to the CEO of a Canadian company called Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. in response to a public records request.

In the letter, 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 fishers, 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 and will actively help defend them from frivolous and scurrilous attacks,” 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.

“It’s like a PR letter from Pebble,” mine opponent Norm Van Vactor said after reading Dunleavy’s letter.

Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation CEO Norman Van Vactor of Dillingham gives a presentation at a press conference sponsored by Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, Trout Unlimited and United Tribes of Bristol Bay on Juneau on April 1, 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to highlight potential harmful impacts to the Bristol Bay region from the proposed Pebble Mine.

Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Norm Van Vactor. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Van Vactor is president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., 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 spokesperson 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 Limited 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.

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