Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. [NDM-TSX; NAK-NYSE] said the CEO of its U.S. subsidiary has submitted his resignation in light of comments he made about elected and regulatory officials in Alaska during private conversations that were covertly videotaped by an environmental activist group.
Northern Dynasty said it has accepted the resignation of Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier. He has been replaced on an interim basis by John Shively, a well-known and respected Alaskan business and political leader, who most recently served as chairman of Pebble Partnership’s general partner, Pebble Mines Corp.
Northern Dynasty shares were largely unchanged on the news, easing 1.1% or $0.01 to $1.36 on volume of 2.02 million. The shares are currently trading in a 52-week range of $3.28 and 49 cents.
Northern Dynasty’s principal asset, owned through its wholly-owned Alaska-based U.S. subsidiary, Pebble Limited Partnership, is a 100% interest in a contiguous block of 2,402 mineral claims in southwest Alaska, including the Pebble deposit.
First discovered in 1989, the Pebble project ranks as one of the world’s largest undeveloped gold-copper resources.
At a 0.3% copper equivalent cut-off, the Pebble Project is estimated to contain 6.456 billion tonnes in the combined measured and indicated categories at a grade of 0.40% copper, 0.34 g/t gold, 240 ppm molybdenum, containing 57 billion pounds of copper, 71 million ounces of gold, 3.4 billion pounds of molybdenum and 345 million ounces of silver.
A mine development proposal currently being evaluated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides for 20 years of mining at an average daily throughput of 180,000 tones and processing of 1.3 billion tonnes of mineralized material. The company expects a final record of decision this fall.
However, the project has been a lightning rod for global environmentalists who expressed concerns about the impact of such a large mining operation on local salmon runs.
Northern Dynasty said Collier’s comments embellished both his and Pebble Partnership’s relationships with elected officials and federal representatives in Alaska, including Governor Dunleavy, Senator Murkowski, and Senator Sullivan as well as senior representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The comments were clearly offensive to these and other political, business and community leaders in the state and for this, Northern Dynasty unreservedly apologizes to all Alaskans, the company said.
Conversations with Collier as well as others with Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ron Thiessen were secretly videotaped by two unknown individuals posing as representatives of a Hong Kong-based investment firms with links to a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
A Washington, D.C., environmental group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, released the tapes on-line on Monday after obscuring the voices and identities of the individuals posing as investors.
Thiessen said the two actors posing as foreign investors on behalf of the Environmental Investigation Agency were clearly trying to entrap the two executives into stating there is a defined plan to expand Pebble beyond the 20-year mine life currently being permitted. “In this objective, they clearly failed,” he said.
However, Thiessen said the unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed. “On behalf of the company, and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans,” he said.
“What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble Tapes’ released this week, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose further additional phases of development, but there exists no formal plan to do so today.”