Ballots sent out in mid-September to 1,192 registered voters in Alaska’s Lake and Peninsula Borough are asking them to decide by Oct. 4 whether they favor or oppose a campaign to halt development of the Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. The initiative on the ballot, if approved by voters, would change borough law to forbid granting of permits for any large mine that would have “significant adverse impact” on salmon streams. While the initiative does not mention Pebble, its sponsors in the “Save our Salmon” campaign are clear that Pebble is the focus of the initiative.
To be counted in this mail-in only election, the ballots must be properly completed and postmarked by Oct. 4, and returned to borough offices by Oct. 14. Borough officials plan to count them on Oct. 17 and release unofficial results on that day.
Borough Clerk Kate Conley said 469 ballots were returned in the borough’s last election, of which only 384 were declared eligible, and 85 declared ineligible because they were either filled out improperly or returned after the deadline. Conley declined to speculate on what the turn out would be for this highly publicized election, but many expect that the number of ballots returned would greatly exceed the number returned in previous elections, since the battle over whether the Pebble mine should be developed now extends far beyond Alaska.
Both sides have spent large amounts of money encouraging voters to pass or defeat the initiative, in a daily advertising campaign. Pebble proponents say mining and fishing can co-exist in Bristol Bay, home of the world famous wild sockeye salmon run, and that the mine would bring a major boost to the area economy. Opponents say the mine stands to destroy fisheries upon which the region’s people have relied on for generations, for subsistence, sport and commercial use.
In one of the latest challenges against the mine, the Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled last week that the Pebble Limited Partnership was not required to report court expenses in an unsuccessful effort to keep the initiative off the ballot. Supporters of the initiative said funds provided by Anchorage businessman Bob Gillam in support of the initiative included money spent on that issue.