The firm behind the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay has signed a right-of-way agreement with an Alaska Native village corporation in the area, which hopes development will be a boon for shareholders.

Iliamna Natives Limited announced its deal with the Pebble Limited Partnership on Wednesday. The planned copper and gold mine’s draft environmental impact statement has been the subject of several public comment meetings in Alaska held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with a public comment period continuing until June 29 after an extension request from Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“In exchange for providing PLP with access to defined portions of INL lands for the development of transportation infrastructure associated with the Pebble Project, PLP will make annual toll payments to INL, and pay other fees prior to and during mining operations in the region,” INL officials wrote in a statement. “Iliamna Natives Limited and its shareholders will benefit from the transportation infrastructure developed on INL land, and the capital investment and economic activity generated by the Pebble Project.”

Pebble gains rights to develop infrastructure including roads, pipelines, a ferry landing site and lay-down yards on INL’s 68,000 acres of land. The deal also includes terms deeming INL a “preferential contractor” for projects occurring wholly or partly on corporation lands southeast of the proposed mine in the village of Iliamna and along Lake Iliamna.

In addition, Pebble and INL will negotiate a profit-sharing agreement to guarantee shareholders a stake in any future proceeds from the mine.

INL’s president, Lorene Anelon, said Wednesday afternoon that the contract with Pebble came after 14 months of negotiations. She declined to discuss how much Pebble will pay INL in direct revenue or the value of potential INL contracts associated with Pebble development, but noted that INL has been doing business with Pebble for 15 years and already has fuel and catering contracts with the partnership.

“When they first came up to Iliamna, we approached them and said, ‘We want to be at the table,’” Anelon said. “Because they’re here, and we don’t want to be sitting back wondering what happened and why weren’t we part of it.”

Anelon said the path to the deal with Pebble “has not been an easy road” for INL, amid controversy over possible environmental consequences cited by mine opponents. The deal has also prompted sharp debates in Iliamna involving the corporation’s 150 shareholders — expanded from the original 77 as shares have been handed down to descendants.

“When I’ve gone to these meetings there, and people are talking about the salmon, the water, protecting their subsistence way of life — we’re there and we know because we do it, we live it,” Anelon said.

Many shareholders, she said, favored the deal on fiscal terms in hopes of helping the economically depressed region.

“Maybe 25 percent of the shareholders are anti[-Pebble] and the other 25 were not sure, because most of our shareholders don’t live there; they live out of state,” Anelon said. “And their words were, ‘Well, we don’t live there and you know what’s best, because you live there.’ And they see it as a benefit to them if anything does happen.”

The Pebble project is also hoped to bring dramatic improvements to Iliamna’s infrastructure including a possible road, with associated benefits for residents. One of the most anticipated, Anelon said, is a potential reduction in residents’ current energy rates — more than three times Anchorage utility Chugach Electric’s current residential rate of just over 19 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“Right now, we pay 59 cents a kilowatt-hour through [the Iliamna Newhalen Nondalton Electric Cooperative], and they use No. 1 heating fuel,” Anelon said. “We also are off the power grid which is Tazimina hydro power, and that’s mediocre; they’re dumping a lot of money into redoing all of our lines out there because we’ve had a lot of power outages.”

Anelon emphasized that INL members living in the area are excited by the contract, despite the possibility of negative comments regarding its involvement with Pebble.

“This is our [Community Development Quota], and this is something we think will really benefit the area and the people and help the region,” Anelon said. “It doesn’t matter what anybody says right now, and they’re going to be making a lot of comments about INL and that’s OK; we’re ready for it and we’re ready to work.”

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is taking comments on the website for the draft EIS, as well as by mail at an Anchorage address:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District 
ATTN: DA Permit Application 2017-271, Pebble Limited Partnership 
645 G Street Suite 100-921 
Anchorage, Alaska 99501

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