Pebble unveils dividend program for Bristol Bay residents following BBNC rejection

Courtesy: Pebble Limited Partnership
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska Tuesday the Pebble Partnership announced a revenue sharing plan for Bristol Bay residents that would distribute 3 percent of the net profits from the to eligible residents who enroll in the program should the mine be permitted, developed and profitable.

The announcement comes three weeks after the Bristol Bay Native Corporation board of directors unanimously rejected Pebble’s offer to administer a similar revenue sharing plan with the company.

In order to be eligible for the Pebble Performance Dividend, individuals must be at least 18 years old, hold a primary residence in Bristol Bay and have lived there for at least a year and intend to remain in the region long-term.

“I had in mind a slightly different idea,” Tom Collier, Pebble Partnership CEO said. “It was my hope that this would be done through BBNC, and that BBNC would in turn make it available for all their shareholders.”

The key difference in the program Pebble rolled out Tuesday and what it offered to BBNC is that now only those who live in the region are eligible, whereas when Pebble offered the idea to BBNC it would have allowed BBNC shareholders who no longer live in the region to still be part of the program.

“I think it contributes to regional support, but the real reason is as I looked around at some of the projects in Alaska, mostly NANA and Red Dog - the one I looked at most carefully - they’re on NANA land. They’re on regional corporation land, and as a result they get a dividend - a royalty payment,” Collier said. “And since we’re on state land, the local native organizations didn’t get such a share, so that’s why we decided to go ahead and do this.”

As currently structured, residents have until August 31 of this year to register. Those who register and are eligible would begin receiving dividends the year construction begins, which at the earliest if all federal and state permits are issued and no legal injunctions slow development would be at least three years from now.

Should the project be developed, the Pebble Partnership says it will contribute a minimum of $3 million to the annual fund payment for the first several years until the project becomes profitable.

The company is offering an incentive for early registration by drawing five residents who register for the dividend by July 31 to receive early dividend payments payable through the start of construction. Collier says the five registrants chosen will receive $1,000 a year.

Collier says registering for the dividend program will not require individuals signing any document that would waive their ability to sue the company for any future damages.

“No releases, no waivers,” Collier said. “This is an opportunity to get a profit share from the mine, and it’s a profit share by the way that we think when the mine is up and running and become profitable will be significantly larger than the $3 million minimum would be.”

DIVIDEND PROGRAM REINFORCES EXISTING POSITIONS

Though it remains to be seen if the program has an impact shifting public opinion on the project, the announcement certainly strengthens the positions held by both mine’s most involved critics and allies.

The dividend program is dependent on a number of assumptions going in Pebble’s favor which are outlined in the legal notice on the program’s website.

Opponents of the mine characterize the program as a stunt meant to try to buy local support for the project.

“They’re saying that the dividends will come after the mine is fully operational and profitable. This is for a mine that doesn’t even have an economic feasibility study completed, nor permissions from landowners for its current mine transportation corridor,” Alannah Hurley, Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay said. “It’s very clear to us after dealing with the company who has ignored communities for the last decade, who have lied, broken all of the promises, sued our tribal chief - this is yet again another desperate attempt to try and buy an illusion of local support.”

Hurley, who is also a shareholder of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, thanked the corporation for rejecting Pebble's offer of administering the dividend to its shareholders.

“I’m very thankful for our regional corporation for not buying into a facade of a revenue sharing program by a dying company. Pebble is planning to pay dividends to people whose lives will be ruined by this project, and those are dividends they don’t even have the capacity to pay,” Hurley said.

In Iliamna, another BBNC shareholder was disappointed in the regional corporation’s decision and thankful Pebble rolled out its own plan.

“BBNC should have put a vote out to all the shareholders if they wanted to get a dividend,” Lisa Reimers, president of Iliamna Development Corporation and a board member of Iliamna Natives Limited said. “I think it’s something we need because without any economic driver, you have no other opportunity out there.”

ACCESS STILL AN ISSUE

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had chosen the alternative of the project it considered to be the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA), the route selected along the northern edge of Iliamna Lake presented the Pebble Partnership with a challenge.

Instead of a transportation corridor crossing lands owned by groups the Pebble Partnership already secured land use agreements with, the least environmentally damaging route will need to cross land held by three groups with a history of opposing the mine: Igiugig Village Council, Pedro Bay Corporation, and Bristol Bay Native Corporation.

Though the groups explicitly stated in letters to the Corps and in official comments on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, both the Igiugig Village Council and Bristol Bay Native Corporation issued statements confirming their continued opposition to the use of their land to access the mine following the announcement of LEDPA.

When asked Tuesday if the Pebble Partnership had resumed negotiations with landowners along the Northern Route, Collier would not specify.

“When you engage in these kinds of discussions, there are confidentiality agreements that preclude discussions about what the status of the discussions are, so I can’t talk about any specific arrangement,” Collier said. “I am willing to say this, and that is I believe that Pebble is going to get the access it needs to build the northern corridor. I’m confident that’s going to happen.”

Tuesday afternoon BBNC Vice President of Lands and Resources Daniel Cheyette told Channel 2 there had been no attempts by the Pebble Partnership to discuss land use agreements in any recent time frame.

"BBNC's opposition to the proposed Pebble mine is rooted in our shareholders' culture and subsistence way of life and is strengthened by the good science that concludes the proposed mine would cause unacceptable and irreparable adverse impacts to the Bristol Bay region. We will not trade salmon for gold, and we will not be swayed by the promises of cash payments from a proposed mine that cannot and should not be built," BBNC President and CEO Jason Metrokin said in a statement. "PLP has never earned our trust. From telling investors one story and Alaskans another about the size and scope of the mine, to promising yet never delivering an economic feasibility study, to refusing to address the numerous data gaps and technical deficiencies in the Draft EIS and preliminary final EIS, it is impossible to distinguish face from PLP's fiction."