Pebble Partnership leaders announced a plan June 16 to pay Bristol Bay residents if the controversial mine project that has sharply divided many communities in the area reaches construction and eventually production.

Pebble CEO Tom Collier said in a prepared statement that the revenue sharing program dubbed the "Pebble Performance Dividend" makes good commitment he offered in late 2017 when its new plan for a smaller, 20-year copper and gold mining operation was unveiled.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently evaluating Pebble's Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit application for the 20-year mine and drafting the corresponding environmental impact statement, or EIS. A final EIS should be released sometime this summer, according Corps Alaska officials.

"While not everyone will want to work at the mine, this (dividend) ensures a direct way for everyone to participate. Whether a resident supports the project, opposes it, or is neutral, anyone who is a year-round resident can participate," Collier said.

Collier and other Pebble leaders have long touted the mine as a way to improve the economics of the region that currently relies on commercial fishing and tourism as its primary industries.

The mine is expected to support up to 2,000 jobs during construction and between 750 and 1,000 jobs once it is developed, according to Pebble.

The company says it will allocate $3 million per year for the dividend during the multi-year construction phase of the project. Once the mine is operating and profitable Pebble will distribute 3 percent of the net profits from the mine to Bristol Bay-area residents that have signed up for the dividend.

As of last year the 31 communities in the area Pebble has made eligible for the dividends -- in the Dillingham Census Area and the Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs -- had a combined population of 7,378 residents, according to the state Labor Department.

The mine site would be in the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

Bristol Bay residents must have lived in the region for 12 months prior to enrolling in the dividend program. An online portal through which residents can enroll in the dividend program will be open through Aug. 31, according to Pebble.

Opponents of the mine have characterized the dividend proposal as an attempt to buy support for a project that has widespread opposition in the region, primarily due to the concern that the mine would pose major, multifaceted risks to the salmon fisheries in the large Nushagak and Kvichak river systems.

Jason Metrokin, CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp., which has led the opposition to Pebble, said in a formal statement that the dividend proposal is another tactic "to try to sway public opinion on this vastly unpopular project."

He also questioned why Pebble would open a two-and-a-half-month enrollment period now when construction of the mine is at least three or four years away.

While Pebble is nearing the end of the EIS process, it still must receive numerous other state and federal permits before construction can start and several of those permit applications typically take multiple years for officials to review and approve.

"BBNC's opposition to the proposed Pebble mine is rooted in our shareholders' culture and subsistence way of life and is strengthened by the good science that concludes that the proposed mine would cause unacceptable and irreparable adverse impacts to the Bristol Bay region. We will not trade salmon for gold, and we will not be swayed by promises of cash payments from a proposed mine that cannot and should not be built," Metrokin said.

A 2019 poll commissioned by BBNC found that 76 percent of its shareholders were against the mine and 83 percent living in the Bristol Bay region opposed it at the time.

In early May Pebble offered to have BBNC administer its Performance Dividend program through the Native regional corporation's own shareholder dividend distribution program; the offer was unanimously rejected by the BBNC Board of Directors.

Metrokin wrote to Collier May 22 in response to the offer that it lacked the detail that would be needed to support it. He continued to write that Pebble has not provided sufficient information about the economics of the company's plan, regardless of the dividend proposal.

"Consequently, your offer to share a portion of revenue from Pebble is too speculative to consider and highly unlikely," Metrokin wrote to Collier. BBNC and other Bristol Bay stakeholders have asked (Pebble) to produce an economic feasibility study for its mine proposal for years and (Pebble) has repeatedly failed to do so. We do not believe that your 20-year mine plan is economically viable at all."

Collier has said Canadian finance laws prevent Pebble's parent company, Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. from releasing an economic analysis of the 20-year plan at this point.

When asked about the allegation that Pebble is trying to buy support, spokesman Mike Heatwole wrote in an email that the company simply wanted to provide an additional way for residents who won't end up working at the mine to share in its benefits.