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New nonprofit advocates for resource development

May 6th, 2011 | Alaska Newspapers Staff Print this article   Email this article  

A new nonprofit organization based in Anchorage says it is advocating for a sustainable economy in Bristol Bay via responsible resource development through due process.

"We want to do something that will provide jobs in the region year round, and that comes on the cusp of supporting responsible resource development through due process, not just Pebble," said Abe Williams, president of Nuna Resources Inc.

While the nonprofit's website makes no specific mention of the proposed Pebble mine, individual members of its board are proponents of examining the possibilities of what the mine could do for the region.

Williams, a resident of King Salmon, is also the president of Paug-Vik Corp., an Alaska Native corporation based in Naknek, whose subsidiary, Paug-Vik Development Corp., offers a range of construction and environmental services in rural Alaska.

He grew up in a family of Bristol Bay commercial fish harvesters, but, he said, "that only happens for a certain period of time through the summer. For the rest of the year, the dollars are gone. The locals feel the hardship from not having jobs."

Williams said he has been meeting with community tribal leaders and talking with individuals and business owners about supporting the permitting process for the copper, gold and molybdenum mine that the Pebble Limited Partnership wants to build at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.

The reaction, he said, has been mixed.

"The permitting process will be the key to deciding that maybe this can co-exist with the area it is projected for," he said. "The whole scare process that it can destroy a fishery is atrocious to me."

The Pebble Limited Partnership is the sole financial contributor to Nuna Resources at this time, Williams said. Once Nuna Development is approved by federal authorities as a nonprofit, they hope to apply for grants from foundations, he said.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, said he has "periodic conversations with all of their folks (at Nuna Resources). They have an important voice to be heard."

Williams and Heatwole declined to say how much of a contribution had been made to Nuna Resources, but Heatwole did say that primary funding for the Pebble Limited Partnership is coming from Anglo American, which is partnered in the exploration project with Northern Dynasty Minerals.

Heatwole announced last week that the partnership plans to spend $91 million during the 2011 work season, to develop a prefeasibility study, all part of the process needed to gain permits needed to develop the mine. To date more than $400 million has been invested in the project, he said.

Trefon Angasan, a Nuna Resources board member and chairman of the Alaska Peninsula Corp., said he sees the mine as an opportunity. "We have seen tremendous benefit in that because if they are spending that kind of money trying to figure out what's on our land, we have that data base as a storehouse for us. We don't have to reinvent the wheel.

"Alaska Peninsula Corp. owns land adjacent to the prospect. We will have a better idea of what our lands hold, on what the environmental baseline is on our lands," he said. "It's a collateral benefit. Newhalen is our shareholder base. The tribe has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with Pebble for jobs now.

"Raymond Wasillee is our agent on the ground in Newhalen. He is the tribal chief of Newhalen. His role is to find people jobs."

Wasillee is also a board member of Nuna Resources.

Angasan said he is also concerned with proposed regulations to stop the Pebble mine because he feels they will have an adverse impact on Alaska Peninsula Corp.'s ability to develop lands acquired under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

"We can no longer afford to do business if we have to go through the barriers that would be thrown at us because of new regulations to stop Pebble, which are going to be too cost-prohibitive for us to develop small projects," he said. Angasan declined to say what any of those projects would be.

Angasan has been a consultant to the Pebble Limited Partnership for quite some time, Heatwole said, and "we have tried to work with the village corporations, on everything from environmental services to helicopter services," he said. The partnership also works on contracts with the Iliamna Development Corp., whose chief executive officer, Lisa Reimers, serves on the board of Nuna Resources.

The proposed mine itself continues to be the center of a national public relations campaign, with proponents, including mining concerns and some Alaska Native village firms, arguing for its economic potential and opponents, including other Alaska Native firms, commercial fishermen, major jewelry firms, investors and chefs, concerned about adverse affects the mine could have on the Bristol Bay fishery, a world class salmon run.

Reimers said this is in large part the reason for creating Nuna Resources. Many who have come out against the proposed mine don't live in the Bristol Bay region. And many who live in the region who support consideration of Pebble as a viable economic resource for a depressed region don't feel like they're being heard.

"Our village corporation, Iliamna Natives Limited, and the Lake and Peninsula support Pebble's right to go through the permitting process," Reimers said. "When you hear groups like Nunamta Aulukestai speaking, they don't represent us all. We represent ourselves. That's why we created Nuna Resources."

Nuna Resources has drawn criticism from Nunamta Aulukestai, (Caretakers of our Lands), based in Dillingham and funded by member Alaska Native Village corporations, based in Dillingham, Ekwok, Koliganek, New Stuyahok, Clarks Point, Aleknagik, Togiak, and Manokotak.

In an open letter to residents of the Bristol Bay region, Nunamta Aulukestai noted that both Angasan and Reimers have close financial ties to the mining company, "so if you get contacted by Nuna Resources, rest assured you really are getting a message from Pebble Partnership and Anglo American," wrote Bobby Andrew, a spokesman for Nunamta Aulukestai, and Kimberly Williams, executive director.

Reimers said that Andrew's group should be honest about where its money is coming from.

"Nunamta Aulukestai's not accurate in saying that their funding comes from tribes and village corporations exclusively," Reimers said. "Money may be flowing through these tribes and village corporations, but the funding is coming from outside the region."


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