Alaska Legislature hears opposition to fisheries board pick

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The choice of a director of the disputed Pebble Mine project to sit on the Alaska Board of Fisheries has drawn opposition from fishermen and critics of the proposed mine.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed Abe Williams to a three-year term on the board in April, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

Alaska legislative committees are holding confirmation hearings on the selection after the process was recessed in the spring because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Williams serves as regional affairs director for mine developer Pebble Limited and is a longtime Bristol Bay commercial fisherman from King Salmon, in the region where the mine would be built.

The open-pit, precious metals mine would be about 200 miles (322 kilometres) southwest of Anchorage, straddling the salmon-producing headwaters of the Bristol Bay fishery.

Dunleavy and Williams have said his background in commercial fishing and leadership roles is an asset.

Williams, 49, said his fondness for fishing and his ability to work with people who do not always agree with his views would helpful in protecting fisheries statewide.

Critics said a Pebble Mine official cannot be trusted to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

The Senate Resources Committee heard from the public and Williams last week, along with the governor’s three other appointees to the seven-member board.

The other appointees include University of Alaska Fairbanks professor McKenzie Mitchell, former Dunleavy Senate aide John Wood and John Jensen, a reappointment from Petersburg.

Democratic state Rep. Geran Tarr, co-chair of the House Resources Committee, said lawmakers received more than 450 emails, nearly all of them opposed to Williams.

Many were form letters submitted after opponents of the mine encouraged people to contact the legislators, but the majority were from Alaskans, Tarr said.

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