Alaska Reps. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) and Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) last week penned a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, asking the state's top executive not to stand with the Pebble Limited Partnership as it seeks to advance its permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But this is no ordinary official government correspondence. The letter details and documents the administration's history of working with the mine's investors, including evidence from recorded calls leaked last month, juxtaposed with state denials of collaboration.
"Our concerns are not hypothetical," the letter declares. "To this point, you and others within your administration have worked with PLP to advance a proposed mine that has no basis in reality and has no place in Bristol Bay."
The release of the controversial Pebble Tapes revealed then-Pebble CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty Minerals President and CEO Ronald Theissen boasting about cozy relationships and political understandings with Dunleavy, the Trump White House, and Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.
Collier, who resigned as CEO two days after the tapes were released, referred to Dunleavy as a personal friend and detailed his fundraising efforts for the governor, as well as a long meeting to ensure that the state was still standing with the Pebble Mine after the Army Corps delayed its permit decision to give the partnership 90 days to submit a mitigation plan.
"I had a two-hour, one-on-one meeting with the governor when all of this came up about a month ago to walk him through this, to get his commitment that they would be there," said Collier in the tapes. "And now we’re working with his department of natural resources, and they are being very cooperative in working this through with us."
In response, the Dunleavy administration denied some of the allegations in the tapes and referred to Collier's descriptions of the relationship as "embellished."
The administration's denials don't seem to pass the straight face test for Stutes and Edgmon. In their letter to Dunleavy, the reps lay out the administration's "well-documented work… on behalf of the PLP," noting that public records and media reports directly contradict the administration's dismissal of the allegations resulting from the tapes.
"It appears that you and other members of your administration, including your resource agency commissioners and staff, are working with PLP on a compensatory mitigation plan for the proposed Pebble mine that would implicate uses and activities on State land in Bristol Bay," the letter reads.
It's not too late for the governor to set things right and work with state legislators. But time is of the essence, especially considering, as the letter notes, that the Legislature would need to approve any transfer of state lands exceeding 640 acres.
A bipartisan opposition to the mine's current development plan is representative of the state's voters, most of whom have opposed Pebble Mine, despite the fact that Alaskans generally support a wide range of resource extraction. Transparency appears to be the key to development projects, according to the letter.
"While there is no doubt that a governor’s job should involve encouraging development projects, such work should be done in the light of day and on behalf of Alaskans," Edgmon and Stutes write.
"Alaska has a well-earned reputation as a place where responsible development is encouraged and supported, and the permitting of Pebble would harm that reputation."
The governor responded on Tuesday, Oct. 6, noting that his "role is to ensure that each project is subject to a fair and rigorous review process, and that every opportunity to create thousands of jobs is fully explored."
The tone of the governor's reply was as forceful as the reps' missive. Though he repeated a promise not to sacrifice one resource for another, it is clear that he believes his participation in the process has been fair and driven by his desire to relieve the Bristol Bay region of economic adversity.
"Regardless of the fate of the Pebble project, let me be absolutely clear: I will not stop fighting for the people of the Bristol Bay region who continue to suffer from an acute lack of economic opportunity," Dunleavy wrote.
[This story has been updated to include the governor's response.]