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Beyond Pebble: Bristol Bay Native looks at other mining prospects

Carey Restino | Bristol Bay Times

Bristol Bay Native Corp. recently signed an agreement with an exploration company to look more closely at the mineral prospects on the Alaska Peninsula in the Chigniks. The move might catch the attention of some in an area where the Pebble Mine prospect has generated significant controversy and concern over the need to protect the salmon resource of Bristol Bay.

But Tiel Smith, the corporation's vice president of land and regional operations, said while the corporation came out in opposition to the Pebble Mine plan in 2009, it didn’t take a position on any other resource development in the region.

“While we have had plenty of discussion and work on the Pebble prospect, we continued to maintain our good relationships with industry,” Smith said.

When a conversation sparked between Millrock Resources Inc. and the corporation, the corporation was clear that it was interested in looking at responsible resource development in the region, Smith said. Millrock is an Anchorage-based exploration company that focuses on identifying and assessing mining prospects. Its CEO, Greg Beisher, worked for a subsidiary of the corporation that focused on oil, gas and mineral resource development. Smith said that connection led to conversations about potential prospects in the corporation’s region.

While the corporation owns subsurface rights for its lands, village corporations own surface rights, and Smith said the corporation is consistent in its requirement that anyone interested in working with the Bristol Bay Native Corp. must have a good working relationship with the village corporations in the regions being considered. Millrock has done that, he said.

While Smith said he can understand the interest in Bristol Bay Native’s consideration of mineral resource development, he didn’t think it would come as a surprise to many who understand the corporation’s responsibility to its shareholders. Economic issues in the region, such as the high cost of energy, are on the minds of the corporation, Smith noted.

“While we want to make sure that it is responsible development they are doing, we are going to continue to move ahead and look at the value of our subsurface resources,” he said.

Those aren’t just limited to hard rock mining, he noted, but might also include gas as well as renewable energy resources such as hydropower and geothermal energy.

“We are looking at a broad range of subsurface values to see if they can benefit the shareholders while still focusing on the value of protecting our fisheries resources,” he said.

The agreement comes with a commitment from Millrock to spend $200,000 in its fi rst year, a corporation release stated. If all annual options are exercised and obligations met, the year-by-year arrangement could continue through 2019, including exploration expenditures of $5 million.

“More than 80 percent of these expenditures would benefit businesses in the region or the state,” said Millrock chief operating Officer Sarah Whicker in the release.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman. Carey Restino can be reached at crestino@reportalaska.com.