The following appears in the October issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
As it’s gone with many fallen public figures, leaked video or audiotape can abruptly end it all. So is the case with Tom Collier, now a former frontman of the group behind Bristol Bay’s Pebble Mine project.
In late September, media outlets released secretly taped videos of Collier discussing the political implications of whether or not the mine’s ongoing permitting process would get approval, creating shockwaves in and out of Alaska. Shortly thereafter, Collier resigned from his leadership post with the Pebble Partnership, which is the face of the group hoping to construct the open-pit copper and gold mine in and around Bristol Bay’s vast salmon spawning headwaters.
In the videos, secretly recorded by a Washington D.C. environmental group and which major media outlets picked up, Collier makes damning statements about his connections with Alaskan political leaders, most notably the state’s Republican senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. Among Collier’s salvos about Sullivan, who had publicly opposed Pebble Mine’s construction, and Murkowski: “They’re just kind of sitting over in a corner and being quiet. It couldn’t be a better thing for us because these guys, they can’t cause us a problem.”
Murkowski and Sullivan both denounced that and other comments, and on Sept. 24 Sullivan tweeted that, “Given the lies of Pebble’s leadership, I had to set the record straight.”
“In my Aug. 24 statement, which I unequivocally stand by, I announced my opposition to Pebble Mine (and) said it should not be permitted (because) it does not meet the high standards we demand for all resource projects in (Alaska). Any suggestion otherwise is a blatant mischaracterization.”
In a press release announcing Collier’s letter of resignation, Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen called the former CEO’s comments “offensive.”
“The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” said Thiessen, who was also on video in various conversations with people posing as potential investors, but at press deadline had not been publicly reprimanded for his comments. “On behalf of the company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”
What this means for the project going forward is unknown, as the Nov. 3 presidential election should be the next domino to fall, one way or the other.
As with the senators, the tapes’ content outraged many Pebble Mine opponents.
“Tom Collier’s resignation from the Pebble Limited Partnership does not address any of the real issues with the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. His resignation is the Pebble Limited Partnership trying to dodge responsibility for the corrupt permitting process it orchestrated,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director
of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “Mr. Collier should not be allowed to be the scapegoat. His resignation does nothing to address the deep-seated flaws and issues with the Pebble Mine’s rigged permitting processes and political influence. Mr. Collier’s resignation does not wipe the slate clean. The entire permitting process needs to be halted immediately and investigations into what took place during Mr. Collier’s leadership of (Pebble) need to occur.”
Nelli Williams, Trout Unlimited Alaska’s director, said that every Alaskan should be “livid” over the comments Collier and Thiessen made on the leaked tapes, which suggest that the Pebble Mine project’s ultimate plans are for an even larger-scale mine for far longer than initially announced.
“These interviews demonstrate in no uncertain terms that the Pebble Partnership and Northern Dynasty Minerals have been dishonest about their true intentions. The companies put forward a fictitious proposal to the Army Corps of Engineers. Their statements
contradict their own permit application, falsely representing their project, and therefore call into question the validity of the entire application and the credibility of its review,” Williams said in a statement.
“We are calling for an immediate rejection of PLP’s permit application because it is fraudulent. A full investigation by Congress is absolutely necessary – Alaskans and Americans deserve to know the truth. The process has been undermined by the actions of a foreign-owned company and that needs to be called out.”
Tim Bristol, executive director at SalmonState, threw more haymakers on the integrity of the project’s leadership, even as one of its main faces has exited.
“Tom Collier is only leaving the Pebble Partnership because he got caught. Deception, dishonesty, greed and hubris are in the DNA of this company and at the heart of its existence,” Bristol said. “Pebble lies. We have always known this and now, thanks to these tapes, the rest of (the) world knows it as well. Tom Collier was not the source of this corruption – he is indicative of it.” ASJ