Pebble offers to pay annual dividend to residents of Bristol Bay, hotbed of opposition to Pebble’s mine

Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig. Photo by Jason Sear, KDLG – Dillingham
Members of the media walking to an exploratory drill rig at the Pebble Mine Exploratory site in 2013. (Photo by Jason Sear/KDLG)

The proposed Pebble Mine has always faced fierce opposition in Bristol Bay. Now, Pebble is offering to pay every adult resident of the area an annual dividend.

Pebble Chief Executive Tom Collier says he wants to share the benefits of the mine with the region, even before the mine delivers its first load of ore. Pebble says it will pay at least $3 million a year in dividends, divided among those who register to receive it.

“(If) 3,000 sign up, it’ll be $1,000 a year,” Collier said. “And as the project becomes profitable, it will be much more than that.”

Collier says he’s making good on a commitment he made to the region.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier waits to testify at a U.S. House hearing. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/APRN)
Pebble CEO Tom Collier, left, waits to testify at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in 2015. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Ultimately the company says it will pay 3% of net annual profits to residents. But he wants to start before there are any profits to share.

“We’ve decided that it didn’t really make sense to force everyone to wait for six or seven years, until all the financing for the project have been paid back, before it became profitable,” he said. “So we decided that we would start doing minimum payments as soon as we went into construction.”

Collier says for most people, the dividends will begin in about three years. The deadline to register is Aug. 31, but Pebble has added an incentive to register early.

“If you sign up by the end of July, we’re gonna draw names out of a hat,” Collier said, “and the five that we draw – their dividend will start immediately and be paid annually through the life of the project  … For everybody else, it starts when we go into construction.”

Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, calls it a “false promise” that reeks of desperation.

“It’s predatory and it’s shameless,” she said.

Her organization is one of the stalwart opponents of the mine. They say Pebble will devastate the salmon fisheries at the heart of the region’s economy and culture. Hurley said residents have to make their own decision about whether to sign up for Pebble’s dividend.

“I would say that if you register, then you are preparing – you know, you will be used by the company to try and portray local support for this project,” she said.

Collier said he hopes everyone will register for the dividend regardless of how they feel about the mine.

Pebble is making the offer to people whose primary home is in an area that stretches from Port Alsworth to Ivanof Bay. It includes the commercial fishing hubs of Dillingham, Naknek and Togiak.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to complete the environmental impact statement on Pebble this summer and then issue a decision on a wetlands permit, the primary federal permit the mine needs.

Pebble’s parent company, Northern Dynasty, is running a deficit of about $415 million, according to a report in E&E News based on regulatory filings.

Collier said the company will have to raise more money by the end of the year.

If the Corps issues a permit, the project will become much more attractive to investors.

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