Pebble owner loses potential major investor

The company spearheading the Pebble mine is again long on mineral prospects but short on cash after another major potential funder turned away from the project, according to a release from Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, the sole parent company to Pebble Limited Partnership, issued a statement early Friday morning acknowledging that its framework investment agreement with First Quantum Minerals has been terminated. In December, the two Canadian mining firms announced they had reached an option agreement under which First Quantum made an initial $37.5 million payment to Northern Dynasty with plans to make three more similar payments totaling $150 million over four years. At the end of that period First Quantum would’ve had the option to buy a 50 percent stake in Pebble Limited Partnership for $1.35 billion. First Quantum operates six primarily copper, gold and zinc mines worldwide. The pre-development Pebble prospect is Northern Dynasty’s sole project. The initial $150 million was intended to fund the permitting process for Pebble, while the subsequent major investment would have helped develop the mine and its extensive support infrastructure. First Quantum was originally supposed to decide whether or not it would invest in Pebble beyond the $37.5 million payment by April 6, according to the framework agreement. The companies first pushed that deadline back to April 30 and later to May 31. Groups opposing Pebble quickly began pressuring funds with investments in First Quantum to divest their interests in the company if it were to get involved in the Pebble project long-term. Those same groups are likely to spend Memorial Day weekend celebrating Northern Dynasty’s announcement. “Today is a victory for Bristol Bay’s tribes,” United Tribes of Bristol Bay President Robert Heyano said in a prepared statement Friday. “Our voices are being heard everywhere from our villages to the boardroom at First Quantum. Quyana (thank you) to First Quantum for listening to reason and divesting from this toxic project. No project is worth more than a culture or a way of life. It’s fitting that this announcement comes right on the cusp of fishing season, where Bristol Bay will once again harvest millions of salmon for the world.” Pebble Partnership leaders have long acknowledged they need to secure another major investor partner before the mine can be built, so what Friday’s revelation means for the future of Pebble and Northern Dynasty is unclear. Spokespersons for Pebble and First Quantum didn’t respond to questions in time for this story. Northern Dynasty held $27.9 million Canadian, or roughly $21 million U.S., in cash on March 31, according to its first quarter financial report issued May 15. At the same time, it had also accrued $13.5 million Canadian in near-term liabilities and total liabilities of $68.7 million Canadian. Northern Dynasty stock closed trading Friday on domestic markets at 47 cents per share, down 33 percent from its Thursday closing price of 70 cents per share. The company is also traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. London-based mining major Anglo American withdrew from Pebble in 2013 after spending more than $540 million exploring the copper and gold deposit. In 2014, fellow British mining firm Rio Tinto donated its 19 percent ownership in Northern Dynasty to the Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation. Bristol Bay Native Corp. has helped lead the fight against Pebble. BBNC President Jason Metrokin said First Quantum “ultimately came to the right conclusion about the Pebble project” Friday morning. “I commend First Quantum for exiting the Pebble project,” Metrokin added. “As we have said repeatedly since formally opposing the proposed mine nine years ago, Pebble mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The people of Bristol bay and the majority of Alaskans will not trade salmon for gold.” In early April, a group of 50 conservation and outdoor recreation companies and organizations sent a joint letter to First Quantum leaders imploring them to stay out of the Pebble project. Further, a group of Alaska Native leaders from the Bristol Bay-area traveled to First Quantum’s May 3 shareholder meeting in Toronto to deliver a similar message. California Treasurer John Chiang, a trustee to the state’s $360 billion-plus Public Employees’ and Teachers’ Retirement systems, sent a letter to First Quantum leaders Jan. 29 urging them to stay out of the Pebble project because CalPERS officials believe sustainable business practices are fundamental to long-term value growth for shareholders. According to Chiang, the Pebble project would risk the sustainability of fisheries in the Bristol Bay region as well as the fund’s investment in First Quantum. At the time, CalPERS held 4.3 million shares of First Quantum amounting to 0.62 percent of outstanding stock in the company as well as bonds in First Quantum with a maturity value of $2.3 million. Additionally, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, generally seen as a bane to conservation advocates, issued a surprising statement Jan. 26 expressing his “serious concerns” about the impacts of mining activity in the Bristol Bay watershed. As a result, Pruitt said the EPA would not finalize its proposed withdrawal of the 2014 proposed determination to prohibit a large mine in the Bristol Bay region through its Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority. Pruitt stressed that his decision would not impact Pebble’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, but it kept a cloud of uncertainty over the project that Pruitt was expected to remove. Pebble Limited Partnership filed its wetlands fill permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dec. 22. The initial application outlined plans to fill 3,190 acres of wetlands at the mine site. While not specific to any mine plan — a point Pebble and parent company Northern Dynasty minerals have stressed — the Bristol Bay Watershed assessment published by EPA in 2014 concludes a mine that would fill more than about 1,100 acres would be too damaging to fish habitat to allow. Look for updates to this story in an upcoming issue of the Journal. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Sitka Police chief named to marijuana board

The Marijuana Control Board will have its third police chief sitting in the designated public safety seat after the appointment of Jeff Ankerfelt of Sitka, Gov. Bill Walker’s office announced May 24. Walker appointed Ankerfelt to the seat that has been vacant since March. Ankerfelt volunteered to serve on the five-member board because he said he “believes it provides an opportunity for law enforcement to engage in the community and update” the understanding of marijuana. Travis Welch, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year, resigned in March after losing his job as North Slope Borough police chief. Welch was named to the seat following the January resignation of Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik. Walker’s office says there were two applications for the seat. Ankerfelt’s appointment is subject to legislative approval, but he will be able to serve until that vote in the 2019 session. The appointment, which was effective May 14, comes as the board is poised to once again debate proposed rules that would allow for consumers to partake of marijuana products on site at authorized shops. But Ankerfelt said he will not be able to attend the June 13-15 meeting in Anchorage because it falls on the same day as his daughter’s graduation from college. His first meeting attendance will be at the Aug. 15-16 board meeting scheduled for Denali National Park. Although it had a quorum of four members and a refined proposal after two years of work on the subject, the board decided to put off its vote over on-site consumption at its last meeting until it had all five members present. Ankerfelt was appointed police chief Nov. 1, 2016, after serving two years on the Sitka Police force. Prior to that, he was the deputy police chief of Brooklyn Park, Minn., where he served for 23 years. He’s also a graduate of the FBI National Academy. “While at the FBI academy I met the former police chief of Sitka. He would call every now and then and say he had an opening in the Sitka police department and would I like to come,” Ankerfelt said. “My wife and I talked about how you only live once. It’s been a great decision.” Since taking leadership of Sitka’s police department, Ankerfelt said he has kept a community and “customer service” focus to promote quality of life issues. “At the forefront, if there are people in community that suffer from substance abuse, mental health and homelessness, we get people the care they need from counselors or the medical profession,” he said. “It’s important to feel they are one and together with police. The more information we exchange the more we can change the future of crime and victimization.” According to the Sitka radio station KCAW, Ankerfelt launched a monthly or bi-monthly donut social he calls “coffee and donuts with a cop” as community outreach. This is an event “where people can come over and chat with us. We’re going to be focusing on problem solving, so when we do have a 911 call, we’re going to take a look at it and look at ways to prevent bad things from happening in the future.” Ankerfelt said his goal on volunteering to serve on the Marijuana Control Board is to help assist marijuana businesses in moving forward the “way the community wants.” Police departments lose an opportunity if they continue to fight marijuana, which is legal in Alaska, he said. “Law enforcement shouldn’t continue to stand in the way in terms of what a community wants in legalization. There’s an opportunity cost to our police department when they fight something that I don’t think needs to be fought. We have our hands full with heroin and other drugs. To fight marijuana gets in the way of benefits that marijuana has been shown to bring to people,” Ankerfelt said, citing seizure medicine, for example. “To the extent I can move that forward and challenge some of perceptions in law enforcement, I want to do that.” Sitka has been supportive of the marijuana businesses there, Ankerfelt said. Seven businesses operate in the town of about 9,500 population, including three retail stores and four cultivators. Ankerfelt joins a board that is required to be diverse in its make-up. The board is made up of representatives from rural Alaska (Chairman Mark Springer), public health (Loren Jones of Juneau), two industry members (Brandon Emmett of Fairbanks and Nick Miller of Anchorage) and a public safety member that is required to be actively working in the field. This is the third police chief in the position, Springer noted. “Someone actively involved in law enforcement is the description of the seat,” Springer said. “I can see how they might be conflicted given the federal look at it. At the same time, a police officer in Alaska is there to enforce Alaska laws. It shouldn’t be that big of an issue.” In light of Ankerfelt’s inability to attend the June meeting, the onsite consumption regulation will be postponed for voting until the August meeting. Emmett, the board member who crafted the latest onsite consumption regulation, with Loren Jones, said he had planned on the vote occurring in June. The proposal is to allow retail businesses to open an adjacent and separate area for people to consume marijuana products. Currently, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in a public setting and officials see an additional need to provide a place for tourists. “I want all five board members there when this thing gets voted on,” Emmett said. “It’s been such a topic of debate that I wouldn’t want it to fail on a tie. We owe the public a five-member vote. The government put together a board of five members, and I feel the public is relying on all five positions to make a decision for the state.” Even if the onsite consumption regulation were approved in June, businesses couldn’t open for customers until after the new year, he said. “Even if we were to approve it, there would not be enough time passed before final regulations to be signed for the businesses to have onsite consumption prior to Labor Day when the tourists leave. It’s still going to be next summer,” he said. The route toward signing it into law would go from passage, to public comment for 30 to 60 days, and then back to the board for either amendments or adoption, Emmett said. If there are amendments, it goes back out for public review for another 30-60 days. Once passed by the board at the end of that period, the new regulation would need the lieutenant governor’s signature. “It hasn’t taken very long for the lieutenant governor to sign these and they do get enacted quickly. If everything goes smoothly, we will be looking at January or February,” Emmett said. The next MCB meeting is June 13-15 in the Atwood Building in Anchorage. Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

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