Rep. Stutes to run unopposed in November

Rep. Louise Stutes in her Kodiak office.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has fired back at Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) and Rep. Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham), who earlier this month penned a letter urging the governor to cease cooperation with Pebble Mine. 

The pair had asked the governor not to let Pebble Limited Partnership, the group that wants to develop the mine, to use state land in its required plans to compensate for the environmental damage the mine would cause. 

In a letter he sent last week, Dunleavy did not specifically address Stutes’ and Edgmon’s concerns about state land being used, but he did voice support for moving forward with the permitting process. 

“I cannot accept your argument that I should not, in my role as governor, seek to move viable projects forward for the benefit of economically depressed regions and our national security, particularly when my only act of ‘promotion,’ both privately and publicly, has been to call for a fair federal review and permitting process,” the governor wrote. 

Stutes and Edgmon are concerned that the mine could affect the Bristol Bay fishery. Dunleavy said he believed the two could operate together. 

“No resource will be sacrificed for the benefit of another. Like Kensington and Greens Creek mines in Southeast Alaska, any proposal within the Bristol Bay Mining District must demonstrate that it can operate in harmony with our fisheries,” Dunleavy wrote. 

“It is disheartening that a representative of this economically depressed region, with so many of their residents deprived of meaningful opportunities to improve their life, would foment opposition to plans to address these inequalities. The American dream cannot be realized while constrained by dependency on government.”

Stutes later said that she was surprised Dunleavy still backed the mine after the release of the Pebble Tapes.

The secretly recorded conversations showed PLP’s then-CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen talking about how they peddle influence behind the scenes of Alaska politics and plan to keep Pebble Mine open far longer than they’ve publicly stated.

Alaska U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, on the other hand, were somewhat skeptical about the mine before the release of the tapes, but have come out strongly against it since then. 

“I find it ironic that everybody is coming out against it except our governor,” Stutes said. “The whole integrity of the process has been compromised, but that doesn’t seem to affect him whatsoever.” 

She said that PLP should be required to start the permitting process over again, since what the executives have publicly proposed does not align with their ambitions for the mine. 

“Everybody is aware of the intention of the owners of the Pebble Mine to expand it and for it not to be a 20-year mine, but a 200-year mine. Yet they were granted permits for a 20-year mine,” Stutes said. 

The question of whether the state is helping PLP with their compensatory mitigation plan is complicated.

Department of Natural Resources Communications Director Dan Saddler said the department has answered technical questions regarding their federal permit with the Army Corps of Engineers, but the idea of buying state land for compensatory use had not been discussed. 

DNR has also met with PLP four times in recent weeks “regarding existing state land-use laws and associated regulatory processes,” Saddler wrote in an email, but added that the department did not advise them about what would be acceptable to the corps. 

“This does not mean DNR is ‘a partner’ with PLP, or is advocating on PLP’s behalf with the corps,” Saddler said.  

He said DNR was unaware of any discussions about PLP buying state land for use in its compensatory mitigation plan. Public input would be required if they did, Saddler said.

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