John Shively’s pitch to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (2-2-11) appeared to generate mixed reviews.

Shively is well known in Sitka after his recent term as vice-president for Government & Community relations for Holland America Lines, as well as for his long service to the state in various capacities, from Commissioner of Natural Resources to chief of staff for Governor Bill Sheffield. He did not ask the room for its support, only for its forbearance.

“I’m not here to ask anybody to support Pebble. We don’t have a mine plan, yet, and no one should support Pebble until we do have a mine plan. All we’re asking for is for people to wait until they see that plan before they say whether it’s a good or bad idea.”

No proposed mining project has generated more controversy in the state recently. Voters last year considered a clean water initiative that many claimed was targeted at stopping Pebble.

The project is located in Southwest Alaska, not far from Iliamna, and the headwaters of two river systems that sustain the Bristol Bay sockeye run, Alaska’s most lucrative salmon fishery. Shively conceded that this was a problem.

 “It would be nice if this prospect was in a less sensitive area – I admit that – but it is where it is.”

Shively explained that he agreed to head up the Pebble Partnership because he believed in bringing jobs to rural Alaska. He played a large role in the development of the Red Dog mine near Kotzebue. In characteristic fashion, he put his cards on the table for a Sitka Chamber membership heavily weighted toward fishing.

“I want to talk a little bit about fish and mining because this is the critical issue. And Pebble (assuming we have an economic project) can you have a project where fish and mining co-exist? I’ve said many times, and will continue to say, that if you have to make a choice between mining and fish, you choose fish every time. There’s no question about that, it’s a renewable resource, for commercial activity, sport activity, and most importantly subsistence. So it can’t be a choice. The question is: can they co-exist, and is there any evidence that fish and mining can co-exist?”

Shively said the sockeye run in the Fraser River in British Columbia has increased, despite extensive mining development in the tributary system.

In an echo of last year’s ballot question battle, Shively argued that opponents of resource development were gaining the upper hand in Alaska. He drew a parallel between litigation in Southeast over timber sales and the legal challenges that Pebble will invariably face.

 “What’s happened to timber in Southeast is just the beginning of what’s going to happen to resource development throughout the state. This is a poster child for what could happen.”

Shively said that opposition to Pebble is well-financed “not only by Mr. Gillam, but by outside foundations.” Bob Gillam, an Anchorage financier, has reportedly invested millions fighting Pebble due to its threat to the Bristol Bay watershed. He made a presentation before Sitka Chamber last year.

Shively suggested that fighting projects like Pebble had become an industry for “outside foundations” like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Trout Unlimited. During questions from the audience, Sitka resident and former Senate president Dick Eliason turned the tables on Shively, by asking him to explain who was backing Pebble.

Sen Eliason – Who’s financing it right now? Shively – The project was originally discovered by Cominco, they didn’t think that they had an economic project. They sold the rights to a company called Northern Dynasty, which is a junior mining company headquartered in Vancouver. Once Northern Dynasty discovered Pebble East and realized how significant the find was, they knew they couldn’t do the project themselves. They went out and made a partnership with Anglo-American, which is the fifth-largest mining company in the world, headquartered in London. And right now the money that’s being spent is all Anglo-American’s money. Sen Eliason – So, it’s foreign investment. Shively – Yeah.”

Shively responded further by adding that Alaska was fortunate to have foreign companies willing to invest here, since the state was “capital poor.” He anticipated that the partnership would begin to apply for permits next year.
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